(Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 1988)


A woman (Susanna Haavisto), impulsively quitting her job and going off with a retrenched miner (Turo Pajala), remarks: "Hopefully, I won't regret this". Later, as the man enters jail for a murder he didn't commit, he declares he has no religion, no fixed address, no family or friends. One of his new-found criminal colleagues dies trying to flee the country, uttering these famous last words: "Bury my heart on a tip".

If anyone has perfected the cinematic language to express drollness, it is Aki Kaurismäki. His films have a sardonic, deadpan, couldn't-care-less air that belies the real depth of their commitment to society's marginals. Ariel, one of his best works of the '80s, is a relentless parable of hard luck befalling ordinary people. Yet these characters never lament or protest their lot; the best they expect is a ticket to somewhere, anywhere else.

At certain moments of his career, Kaurismäki has seemed, especially in his public pronouncements, incurably flip. But Ariel's bleak outlook and its determinedly minimal means (approaching the austerity of Bresson) reveal a more authentic engagement with his subject matter. Ariel makes for hypnotic viewing, forecasting the greatness that Kaurismäki would achieve in The Man Without a Past (2002).

MORE Kaurismäki: Drifting Clouds, Leningrad Cowboys Go America, The Man Without a Past, La Vie de Bohème

© Adrian Martin April 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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