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Juha is the last silent film of the 20th century. And a truly great one, I might add. Adapting a Finnish literary classic (already brought to the screen three times), Scandinavian master Aki Kaurismäki (whose movies have always had limited dialogue, mind) tells a cruel, touching story of love, loss and revenge.
Weirdly for a Kaurismäki movie, Juha seems to open on a happy note: we witness the everyday life of the eponymous farmer (a never better Sakari Kuosmanen) and his wife Marja (the consistently astounding Kati Outinen). The two don't lead the easiest of lives, but somehow they manage to survive and keep an optimistic view on existence.
That's when Shemeikka (André Wilms, whose previous work with the director includes Bohemian Life and Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses) enters the game. He comes from the big city, and is forced to spend the night at Juha's because of a lousy car. The following morning he returns home, only this time he's got company: he has seduced Marja, promising her a better life. Sadly, she'll come to regret her choice as it turns out that Shemeikka actually runs a brothel. All she can do is hope her husband will forgive her and come to the rescue.
The audacious aspect of Juha is not the fact that it's shot in black and white (Kaurismäki does that quite often), but the fact that there's no sound at all. Dialogue is shown through title cards, and the rest of the action is left to the strength of the performances: Kuosmanen shows a staggering intensity as the leading man, Outinen is at her most vulnerable playing his wife, and Wilms is perhaps the best villain the Finnish director has ever come up with. Utterly cold and repulsive, he really makes sure you won't like him.
Juha works thanks to its honesty and raw power: it's not a pastiche of silent movies, but a serious, endearing tragedy, and further proof of Kaurismäki's high rank among Scandinavian film-makers.
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