Hamlet Goes Business, 1987

In the highly competitive corporate environment of modern-day Denmark, Hamlet (Pirkka-Pekka Petelius) is the heir to his father’s (Pentti Auer) majority stake in the family’s diversified commercial enterprise. His father’s business partner and senior board member, Klaus (Esko Salminen), is negotiating a delicate, multilayered transaction with rival companies to sell off less profitable ventures in exchange for cornering the market on a single, novelty product line: rubber ducks from Sweden. Having earlier caused the death of the elder Hamlet in order to gain the post of Chief Executive Officer and to marry his mistress, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude (Elina Salo), Klaus has now enlisted the aid of his chief lieutenant, Polonius (Esko Nikkari), to formulate a strategy in order to divest Hamlet of his shareholdings and realize his ambition of the rubber duck monopoly. To this end, Polonius has instructed his daughter, Hamlet’s girlfriend, Ophelia (Kati Outinen), to drive Hamlet to the brink of passion, then rebuff him in an attempt to persuade the young heir into marrying her and thereby wrest control of his shares. Meanwhile, Hamlet’s childhood friend, Lauri Polonius (Kari Väänänen), impulsively resigns from the company after a failed attempt to negotiate for new office (one that does not require entrance through the restroom) and to plead with him to stop his amorous pursuit of Ophelia. Severing ties with Hamlet, Lauri embarks on a trip to Sweden in order to resume his academic studies, making a final entreaty to Ophelia to resist Hamlet’s indelicate advances. Abandoned by his friend, haunted by his father’s restless spirit, and frustrated by his beloved Ophelia’s constant rejection, Hamlet sinks into a state of confusion, melancholy, guilt, and despair.

A sardonic and irreverent contemporary adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet Goes Business is an idiosyncratically whimsical, yet incisive satire on corporate greed, materialism, corruption, and vengeance. Shot in black and white and employing high contrast lighting, the film achieves an atmospheric noir that reflects Aki Kaurismäki’s irrepressibly droll sense of humor and penchant for understated irony. Kaurismäki incorporates traditional, often manipulative and hackneyed stylistic devices of lush, overarching music, directed stage lighting, expressionistic gestures, skewed camera angles, and meticulously composed slow motion shots in order to playfully subvert dramatic convention: Lauri’s angered departure from Hamlet’s office; Hamlet’s self-consciously tormented delivery of a poem to Ophelia; the overdramatic, but anticlimactic plot device of the Murder of Gonzago play-within-a-play episode to expose Klaus’s treachery; the exquisite choreography of Ophelia’s final moments of despair. By integrating muted emotion with exaggerated theatricality, Kaurismäki creates a delirious and incongruent fusion of highbrow art film and pop culture kitsch – a patently iconoclastic comedic tragedy on indecision, inertia, and alienation.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.

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