Ariel, 1988

Taisto (Turo Pajala) is the archetypal Kaurismäki anti-hero. His unkempt, impassive demeanor serves as a disarming, impenetrable defense mechanism against the seeming absurdity of his hapless life. The film opens to the activity of a mine shutdown, as Taisto and his coworkers resignedly look on as the explosives are detonated. A disillusioned friend gives Taisto the keys to his prized possession – a Cadillac convertible – and tells him to drive as far away as he can, before committing suicide in the men’s room of the diner. Heeding his friend’s somber advice, he decides to pack his suitcase and leave home. Within seconds of driving away, the roof of his garage collapses. Taisto’s luck immediately turns from bad to worse when two assailants target him at a mobile hamburger stand and rob him of his life savings. The following morning, he finds a job as a day laborer at a shipyard loading dock, and decides to celebrate in the evening by going to a bar, where he invariably falls asleep. One afternoon, a meter maid named Irmeli (Susanna Haavisto) stops to admire the convertible and issues a parking ticket, but Taisto succeeds in getting the ticket discarded by agreeing to take her out to dinner. Taisto immediately falls in love with her (in his usual inexpressive way), and, in between job hunting, spends time bonding with Irmeli and her young, and equally reticent, son. However, his near-perfect life collapses when a chance encounter with one of the muggers is captured on a police surveillance camera at a subway station, and Taisto is arrested.

Aki Kaurismäki creates a snide and irreverent chronicle of a man’s search for love and happiness in Ariel. Using the austere landscape of the Finnish Laplands, black humor, understated expression, and character inertia, Kaurismäki presents an incisive and acutely droll portrait of small town ennui and the dark comedy of life’s anecdotal incongruities: Taisto and Irmeli’s whirlwind courtship unfolds with a resigned acceptability of mutual “non-hatred” instead of overwhelming passion; Taisto’s chronically unemployed status contrasts with Irmeli’s work in multiple jobs (meter maid, hotel housekeeper, meat packer, and bank night guard); Taisto’s attempt to retrieve his stolen money from the criminal ironically sends him to prison. As the film concludes to the lyrical tune of Somewhere Over the Rainbow incongruously sung in Finnish, what emerges is a sharp, incisive, and playfully sinister depiction of modern-day existentialist angst, and the innate comedy of human existence.

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