Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki‘s Cannes ’06 feature “Lights in the Dusk” (Laitakaupungin valot) revolves around the commerical and office-block “canyons” of a Helsinki business district. The film concludes a trilogy including “Drifting Clouds,” and “The Man Without a Past.” The first in the trilogy was about unemployment and the second about homelessness. This final installment centers on loneliness in which Koistinen searches the hard world for a small crack to crawl in through, but both his fellow beings and the faceless apparatus of the society conspire to crush his modest hopes. Criminal elements exploit his longing for love and his position as a night watchman in a robbery they pull off, leaving Koistinen to face the consequences. Kaurismaki has received numerous nominations and awards at festivals around the world, including a grand prize of the jury at Cannes ’02 for “The Man Without a Past.” Strand Releasing opened “Lights in the Dusk” at the IFC Center in New York on Wednesday, June 13 and will open at LA’s Nuart on July 13.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that evolved during your career?
I was born April 4th 1957, but… When I was sixteen I saw a ‘double-bill’ of Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North” and Bunuel’s “Golden Age” and understood that cinema can be more than a fistfull of dollars. Nowadays I’m not so sure anymore…
[I think] it would be a big step forward if we could end television and newspapers, forget the Internet, and go back to the newsreels and collective dreams found in 35 mm.
How did the idea for “Lights in the Dusk” evolve?
“Lights in the Dusk” ends a trilogy that began with “Drifting Clouds” and “The Man Without a Past,” and is therefore a ‘victim’ of the “ultra-optimism” of its predecessors. Had it continued in their direction, it would have been a documentation of “paradise on earth.”
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
Since I strongly dislike lying (unless it serves my own welfare) I had to make a so called “realistic” film, which in modern Finland means that the protagonist is beaten and beaten badly whoever he is. But there is also a lot of hope in this film, but only in the last 18 frames.
It can easily be seen from the title already that Charles Spencer Chaplin is the godfather of this film. The other one is Robert Bresson. And, what do you get? A tramp without hope?
How did the financing come together?
Financing, producing and distributing a film has never been a problem since my budgets are minimal and I always produce myself. I also write and edit alone, which means I don’t have to negotiate with anybody, which is sometimes lonely and always a pity.
What other genres or stories would you like to explore?
I never tried to make a pure comedy (if that exists), most probably because it is the most complicated of all genres. I also sometimes dream of an old fashioned thriller, but since everybody is already fishing in that sea I’ll leave it to the amateurs.
Is there any insight you can give to your next project?
When I was young the ideas came like rain in Springtime and I used to make three films a year. But getting old doesn’t only mean you get dull, boring, weak and a nuisance for even your always dwindling friends as well as ugly and stupid… It means you get slow! That is the biggest horror. So…the subject of my next film is open…
What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed since you first set out as a filmmaker?
For reasons I mentioned before, I have always been totally free to make what I want movie-wise (with certain financial limits). If you mean independent films in the U.S.A., for example, it must be admitted, that they are the only interesting ones (good or bad) made in the country. Hollywood or “the industry” in general can hardly produce one masterpiece every 20 years.
That is quite pitiful considering the effort and billions of dollars. Hollywood, in my opinion, is like a dead rattlesnake–“it still moves until sunset.” This is especially sad, because until early ’60s, it used to be the most beautiful “dream-machine” of all times. To understand what I mean you only have to compare Humphrey Bogart and Brad Pitt, Bette Davis and Nicole Kidman or Edward G. Robinson and Bruce Willis. The former were adults.
What are some of your all-time favorite and recent favorite films?
“Tokyo Story” (Ozu), “Mouchette” (Bresson), “The Set Up” (Wise), “Los Olvidados” (Bunuel), “Casque d’Or” (Becker), “Seven Samurai” (Kurosawa), “High Sierra” (Walsh), “Only Angels Have Wings” (Hawks), “Sunrise” (Murnau), “Broken Blossoms” (Griffith), “Umberto D” (de Sica), “L’Atalante” (Vigo) and so on…
I once [came up with] one thousand titles just for fun. My recent favourites are all Jim Jarmusch and all Dardenne-brothers films. The first “Spider Man” was not totally bad (as you can see I’m not totally uncivilized concerning the box-office hits either).
What other interests do you have outside of film?
Outside of cinema I read like a maniac, fish, pick mushrooms, drink, cut wood and play football (soccer).
What general advice would you give to emerging filmmakers?
Concentrate on the screenplay, forget camera tricks, edit when you shoot and never trust anybody. Also remember that the cinema is between the lens of the camera and the eyes of the actor. The rest doesn’t matter.
Are there any particular achievements from your career that you are most proud of?
My career so far has been a failure and if it [were] up to me it [wouldn’t] get better in the future either.
And, I bought a school bus for a home of abandoned children in Kurdistan.