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TIFF Review: Pirjo Honkasalo’s ‘Concrete Night’ One of the Most Gorgeous Films at Toronto (TRAILER)

TIFF Review: Pirjo Honkasalo's 'Concrete Night' One of the Most Gorgeous Films at Toronto (TRAILER)

Included in the Toronto Film Festival’s “Masters” selection
— and for very good reason — “Concrete Night” marks the return of the Finnish
filmmaker Pirjo Honkasalo (“The Three Rooms of Melancholia”) to the realm of
fiction for the first time since 1998, with a story that explores the poverty
of the soul; the poverty of the pocketbook; life, death, Helsinki and the

Based on a novel by Honkasalo compatriot Pirkko Saisio, “Concrete
Night’ is a mood piece and a poem, a coming-of-age story and a parable about
how one generation warps the next. It’s also, not coincidentally, one of the
most gorgeous things to appear at TIFF.

Shooting in widescreen black-and-white (a distinctly Finnish
gesture), DP Peter Flickenburger’s camera creates a look that suggests B&W
social realist films of a bygone era, perhaps one of the great ‘50s films of
Elia Kazan, or something shot by Haskell Wexler (like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf”), or Otello Martelli (“Stromboli”). For any student of world cinema, the
look of “Concrete Night” pulls the trigger on an explosion of visual memories
and subconscious references, most of them linked to films of social importance,
progressive thought, neo-realism and film as an art of visual nuance. 

story itself is about the troubled coming of age of a 14-year-old boy named
Simo (Johannes Brotherus), who lives in squalor with his brother, who will soon
be going off to jail. Simo’s problems may seem smalltime, but the look and frame
of the film makes them epic.

“You have to choose a face,” the voiceover says, and as Simo
stares into a mirror, he’s trying to figure out who’s staring back. Such
moments of duality are rampant in “Concrete Night.” Honkasalo exploits every
reflective surface she can find, suggesting alternate identities and
possibilities, juxtaposing the what-ifs of a parallel existence, where Simo
might have been born and better educated and made less morally porous, and
where the influences on him might not have been so poisonous. 

The dust, spores,
feathers and bits of airborne effluvia that fly around in the air, and which
puzzle Simo at the outset of the movie (and which recur throughout) seem to
suggest the loose particles of his life. Or maybe pixie dust. You can choose a face, you can choose to see
things this way or that; you can choose your life. But it requires strength and
a moral barometer. Whether Simo has those qualities is a question that creates
the not-inconsiderable tension of “Concrete Night,” as well as its considerable

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