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Tram driver Lauri loses his job. Shortly later, the restaurant where his wife Ilona works as a head waitress is closed. Too proud to receive money from the social welfare system, they strive to find new jobs. But they are completely unlucky and clumsy, one disaster is followed by the next. Written by
Frank Wallner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Aside from Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, Aki Kaurismäki has never done any real sequels to his films (even though Shadows in Paradise featured one of the minor characters from Crime and Punishment). Drifting Clouds, the first entry in the acclaimed "losers" trilogy, was meant to be an exception, the script having been written specifically as a follow-up to Shadows. Sadly, Matti Pellonpää, who was eager to reprise his role as Nikander, died shortly before filming began, thus abruptly ending a working relationship with the director which had lasted 11 years and 8 movies (The Match Factory Girl and I Hired a Contract Killer were the only ones in which he did not appear prior to his death), prompting Kaurismäki to change the screenplay.
Nonetheless, there are still traces of the original project in the finished film, namely the characters played by Kati Outinen (who became the new protagonist of the story) and Sakari Kuosmanen, who retain the names they had in Shadows: Ilona and Melartin. They both work at a restaurant called Dubrovnik (as maitre d' and waiter respectively), under the supervision of Mrs. Sjöholm (Elina Salo). There are no major problems in the workplace, the only occasional disturbance being the alcohol-induced antics of the cook Lajunen (Markku Peltola, who later played the lead in the trilogy's second act, The Man Without a Past). Then one day Mrs. Sjöholm announces the restaurant is being handed over to a new proprietor, meaning the old staff's services are no longer required. Everyone faces unemployment their own way: Lajunen buries himself in booze ("Where are you going?" he gets asked one evening; "As far as the Kossu lasts" he replies, referring to Finland's most popular drink) and Melartin starts looking for another job, while Ilona is confident her husband's income will be enough for the two to lead a decent life. Unfortunately, Lauri (Kari Väänänen) loses his job as well, causing despair and frustration as his wife tries to come up with a solution that could satisfy everybody.
As usual, Kaurismäki depicts contemporary Finnish society with a very pessimistic eye, never once flinching away from the sadness of the situation. The high point of this is reached in Esko Nikkari's cameo, a scene drenched in cynicism and cruelly black humor where the great character actor tells Outinen (always at her best in these pictures) that once you're past the age of 30, you're completely worthless in the business world. "You're 56" she reminds him; "Yes, but I have connections" comes the painfully dry answer. It's a dramatic sequence which reflects what really goes on in the world every day, albeit filtered through Kaurismäki's peculiar view on life.
And yet, for all the misery that permeates the picture, Drifting Clouds is actually the most optimistic of the "losers" films: perhaps remembering what the movie was originally meant to be, the director fills almost every frame (minus the Nikkari scene) with gags, in order to lighten the mood. And the conclusion stands out as one of the most cheerful Kaurismäki has ever shot, maybe because that is the kind of ending in which Pellonpää, to whom the film is dedicated, would have given another of his understated, hugely affecting, unforgettable performances.
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