The coastal city of Kotka seems to have quite a groovy town in the 1950s Finland, at least if we are to believe Keisarikunta, Pekka Mandart's 2004 movie based on certain real-life musicians who once jammed in a small local restaurant called Fennia. The songs surely are fun but I think a meatier story would have definitely been needed to raise the movie into the truly memorable class.
The protagonist is an aspiring drummer named Rempo (Mikko Leppilampi) who humbly works in a menial job to help his girlfriend Aila (Maria Ylipää) to reach her dream of opening a beauty salon of her own. However, Rempo's old musician buddies persuade him to take all of his savings and buy a restaurant instead so that the band could start regularly performing again and perhaps make good money on the side. Despite his newfound musician lifestyle, Rempo is torn between his loyalty to the band and love of Aila who has now relocated to Helsinki, thoroughly disappointed in him.
As mentioned, the jazzy, bluesy and rocking song numbers are all very swinging and highly entertaining, plus the guys of the band and their friends are decently played by actors like Mikko Nousiainen (the ambitious bandleader Olli), Tuomas Uusitalo (the chubby guitarist Kinkku) and Petteri Summanen (Heiskanen, a boxer-turn-doorman with a speech defect). Notable is also the atmospheric cinematography by the experienced Kari Sohlberg with tones of yellow, brown and even green that make the whole movie resemble old photographs of the era. Very nice!
Considering the visual and aural quality of Keisarikunta, it is too bad the characters and the plot itself are so thin that it is difficult to actually care about them much. Seeing how dedicated he is to her later on, Rempo's decision to let Aila down by spending their savings just like that feels poorly motivated and the couple's romance is very basic and ordinary love story material to begin with. Additionally, I think the beautiful Maria Ylipää does not really get enough screen time to show her full potential in her role. Though I understand the movie was never meant to be a larger-than-life melodrama, I dare to claim that some more substance can justifiably be demanded since the film does not go merely for laughs but is also labeled as a drama.
For the most part it is probably better to see Keisarikunta as a lightweight buddy movie and a portrayal of the old pals' last summer together. The guys' banter and occasional quarreling is ultimately more interesting and entertaining than the romance, especially thanks to Tuomas Uusitalo as the jovial and talented Kinkku. Likewise, I must repeat that the songs are very nice, so the movie can be called an adequately watchable little flick, just not worth going out of one's way to find it.
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