From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Aki Kaurismäki started his career as a co-director in the films of his elder brother Mika Kaurismäki. His debut as an independent director was Crime and Punishment (1983), Dostoevsky's famous crime story set in modern-day Helsinki.
He gained worldwide fame with his movie Leningrad Cowboys Go America.
His style has been influenced a lot by such directors as Jean-Pierre Melville and Robert Bresson, as he relies on low-key acting and simple cinematic storytelling to get his message(s) across. Critics have also seen an influence from Rainer Werner Fassbinder but Kaurismäki - a keen film buff himself - has said that he somehow never got around to seeing any Fassbinder movies until recent years. His movies have a unique downplayed humorous side that can also be seen in the films of Jim Jarmusch, who has a cameo in Kaurismäki's film Leningrad Cowboys Go America. Jarmusch also used frequent Kaurismäki actors in his film Night on Earth, a part of which takes place in Helsinki, Finland.
Much of his work is centred on his native city of Helsinki, particularly Calamari Union which is largely set in the working class neighbourhood of Kallio, and the trilogy that comprises Shadows in Paradise, Ariel, and The Match Factory Girl. His vision of Helsinki is, it should be noted, both critical and singularly unromantic. Indeed, the characters often speak about how they wish to get away from Helsinki: some end up in South America [Ariel], others in Estonia [Kalamari Union and Take Care of Your Scarf Tatjana]. The setting is the 1980s, even in the more recent movies.
Awards and protests
In terms of awards, Kaurismäki's most successful movie to date has been The Man Without a Past. It won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002 and was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 2003. However, Kaurismäki refused to attend the gala, noting that he didn't particularly feel like partying in a nation that is currently in a state of war. Kaurismäki's next film Lights in the Dusk was also chosen to be Finland's nominee in the category for best foreign film. Kaurismäki again decided to boycott the Awards and refused the nomination as a protest against US President George W. Bush's foreign policy .
In 2003, in one of his most famous protests, Kaurismäki boycotted the 40th New York Film Festival backing his Iranian fellow director, Abbas Kiarostami who was categorically refused a US visa for the festival. Kaurismäki later said :
"Not with anger (which has never brought anything good), but with deep sorrow, I received the news that Abbas Kiarostami, a friend of mine and one of the world's most peace-loving persons, is prevented from participating the New York Film Festival because, being a citizen of Iran, he was refused a visa. I had also been invited to the festival, which is one of the best in the world. Under the circumstances I, too, am forced to cancel my participation - for if the present government of the United States of America does not want an Iranian, they will hardly have any use for a Finn. We do not even have the oil. However, what concerns me more is that if Abbas Kiarostami is being treated like this; what will happen to nameless prisoners? I consider the Geneva Convention as the last hope of mankind, and as a private citizen on Finland, I accuse the Government of the United States of violating it."
- Rikos ja rangaistus (Crime and Punishment), 1983
- Calamari Union, 1985
- Varjoja paratiisissa (Shadows in Paradise), 1986
- Hamlet liikemaailmassa (Hamlet Goes Business), 1987
- Ariel, 1988
- Likaiset kädet (Les mains sales), 1989 (production for Finnish TV)
- Leningrad Cowboys Go America, 1989
- Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö (The Match Factory Girl), 1990
- I Hired a Contract Killer, 1990
- Boheemielämää (La vie de bohème), 1992
- Pidä huivista kiinni, Tatjana (Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana), 1994
- Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, 1994
- Kauas pilvet karkaavat (Drifting Clouds), 1996
- Juha, 1999
- Mies vailla menneisyyttä (The Man Without a Past) (2002)
- Laitakaupungin valot (2006) (Lights in the Dusk)
- Rocky VI, 1986 (8 min)
- Through the Wire, 1987 (6 min)
- Rich Little Bitch, 1987 (6 min)
- L.A. Woman, 1987 (5 min)
- Those Were The Days, 1991 (5 min)
- These Boots, 1992 (5 min)
- Välittäjä, 1996?
- Dogs Have No Hell, 2002 (10 minute episode in the collaborative film Ten Minutes Older - The Trumpet)
- Roger Connah K/K: A Couple of Finns and Some Donald Ducks: Cinema and Society. VAPK Pub., Helsinki, 1991 [A remarkable placement of both Aki and Mika Kaurismäki's films within Finnish society. Witty and erudite]