Leningrad Cowboys Go America

(Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 1989)


Leningrad Cowboys Go America is a would-be cult item for the youth market from the Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki. Virtually plotless, it follows the shambling, bumbling itinerary of a Russian rock band across the badlands of the USA.

Ultimately, it resembles nothing so much as a feature-length version of the video clips Devo once made: a group of semi-retarded potato-heads singing perverted folk tunes from the old country against surreal-looking real-life landscapes. (Later, Kaurismäki would also make a concert movie for the band.)

It won't be every viewer's idea of a good time, and it sure wasn't mine. Kaurismäki, however, is a genuinely original director, and his films are usually worth the effort.

Professing total lack of interest in all movies (his own included), Kaurismäki has mastered a brand of filmmaking cool bordering on complete solipsism – or perhaps catatonia.

Kaurismäki offers a style of shaggy-dog humour built on deliberate unfunniness: jokes that go nowhere, gags that don't work, scenes that stop in no particular place for no special reason.

These Cowboys are funny because their movements are stiff, their English stilted, and their behaviour indicates almost certain brain-death.

Leningrad Cowboys Go America is a film for those who like post-punk music and the modern road movies of American independents. As well, it offers a cockeyed view of America as a vast, demented wasteland – a perspective familiar from the American films of previous European travellers such as Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.

All up, it's a reasonably enjoyably, scatty, perverse movie – if you're in a suitably chilled-out, expectations-lowered mood.

MORE Kaurismäki: Ariel, Drifting Clouds, The Man Without a Past, La Vie de Bohème

© Adrian Martin July 1991

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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