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Waved off

By MICHAEL ATKINSON  |  January 28, 2010

Lights in the Dusk is paradigmatic Aki — as posed, awkward, and chillingly funny as zombie vaudeville. Unblinkingly documenting yet another tribulation of Helsinki misfortune for a luckless Finnish nowhere man — the sad-eyed Janne Hyytiäinen as a witless security guard suckered into a heist by a beautiful blonde and then used as a fall guy — Kaurismäki’s movie gets choked laughs in impossible places. (After a while, the very arrangement of garbage in an alley or the uncleanliness of the hero’s hair seem like bitter jokes.) But it’s a familiar repertoire. For aficionados, a Kaurismäki beer commercial would be worth paying for, but the tank of inspiration that fueled La vie de bohème, Drifting Clouds, and the all-silent Juha might be heading toward E now that Matti Pellonpää is gone and the Leningrad Cowboys tour the world without waiting for Kaurismäki to film them.

LIGHTS IN THE DUSK: Yet another luckless Finnish nowhere man from Aki Kaurismäki.
Valeska Griesbach’s SEHNSUCHT|LONGING (2006; January 26 @ 8:45 pm + January 28 @ 7 pm) is more typical — an assured, modest, unambitious German film about romantic confusion in which a mopy metalworker and volunteer fireman (Andreas Mueller) first tries to save the victims of a suicidal car crash and then on a trip out of town from his wife drunkenly begins an affair with a waitress. Unable to decide which woman he loves more, he vacillates and says nothing, until a small but outrageous twist of fate seals the deal. Griesbach’s gritty-semi-documentary approach feels authentic, and the interviewed-schoolkids meta-ending is sweet, but the film is too juiceless — filmmakers these days are mistaking pensive, near-comatose non-communication for realism, forgetting in the process that real people often never stop talking.

Substantially livelier and more inhabited, Emily Atef’s MOLLY’S WAY (2005; January 29 @ 9 pm + January 30 @ 8:45 pm) and Jan Hrebejk’s BEAUTY IN TROUBLE (2006; January 29 @ 9 pm + January 30 @ 8:45 pm) are also less interesting and more like familiar Sundance indies: lonely people, romantic hope, vague through lines. Atef’s film, a German production set in Poland with an Irish heroine and English dialogue, trails after a guileless lass voyaging into the Polish lowlands in ill-informed pursuit of a man she’d spent a night with months before. The first-time writer/director has no large ideas or inspirations to work with, just a sense of lonesome cuteness and a penchant for painting her supporting characters in broad, obvious strokes. Hrebejk, a mid-range Czech veteran who can claim a 2001 Oscar nomination for Divided We Fall, has etched out a meatier piece that trails closely after an aging party girl (Anna Geislerová) with two kids after she leaves her car-thief husband and moves in with her mother. The growling, disabled ogre of a stepfather (Jirí Schmitzer) is the primary difficulty, at least until a rich, cultured bachelor (Josef Abrhám) with a stolen-car problem gets lined up by screenwriter Petr Jarchovský as a swoonable savior. It’s an expert work on a Hollywood mean — loud TV acting, song interludes, caricatured lowlife — but is this where the Czech legacy has led us?

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