Lights in the Dusk
2006, NR, 75 min. Directed by Aki Kaurismäki. Starring Janne Hyytiäinen, Maria Järvenhelmi, Maria Heiskanen, Ilkka Koivula.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 17, 2007
Although Finnish filmmaker Kaurismäki says Lights in the Dusk marks the completion of his “loser trilogy,” this cycle-ending film is as good an introduction to his work as any. Kaurismäki’s spare style and economical storytelling are well-suited to this particular story about loneliness, as the director never muddies the frame with sentimental dross or lugubrious inclinations. Kaurismäki’s characters are but specks in the cosmos, and he sees no nobility in their suffering. Yet, as in the other two films in the trilogy (Drifting Clouds, which looks at unemployment, and Man Without a Past, whose focus is homelessness), Lights in the Dusk doesn't diminish or degrade its characters, either: They may be life's outcasts and losers, but they are still the subjects of their own stories. Kaurismäki's spartan storytelling provides just enough detail to get us hooked but never any excess in which to wallow. In fact, the characters are relatively affectless, the settings are minimalist, and the narrative is spare. Lights in the Dusk is the song of a lonely sap, a security guard named Koistinen (Hyytiäinen) who is laughed at by his fellow workers and rebuffed by the women he clumsily tries to pick up. When he attempts to improve his station in life and applies for a loan to start a business, even the bankers openly laugh at him. Koistinen is ripe for the plucking by a crime boss (Koivula) who uses his girlfriend, Mirja (Järvenhelmi), to lure the security codes and keys from the hapless guard to rob a jewelry store along his route. Koistinen is an easy mark, made clearly evident by the scant amount of seduction necessary by Mirja. She looks so bored that only a person truly starved for friendship would bite at her company. How does one say “cherchez la femme” in Finnish? Remaining passive in his downfall, Koistinen is reminiscent of the hero in Ernest Hemingway's twice-filmed story "The Killers" – the sap who was betrayed by a dame and then offers no resistance to his own execution. Still, Lights in the Dusk has small moments of hopefulness: intriguing music, a dog, the unprodded assistance of a young boy and a concerned woman. They're not much, but neither is life all bleakness and desolation. Sometimes there exist lights in the dusk. AFS@Dobie