Lights in the Dusk (2006) Poster

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Kaurismäki's sympathies lie with the common people
mcnally26 December 2006
I saw this film at the Toronto International Film Festival. This is the third film in Kaurismäki's "Helsinki Trilogy" (the others are Drifting Clouds (1996) and The Man Without a Past (2002)) While I haven't seen the first, this film shares many thematic and formal elements with the second film, and I enjoyed it just as much.

Koistinen is a lonely security guard who is ignored by his co-workers; that is, when he's not being teased by them. His life is soon turned upside down by a femme fatale, with heartbreaking results. Despite the grim-sounding plot, the film is full of the director's trademark deadpan humour. And I'm in awe of how he can make the film just radiate love despite the mannered acting and awkward staging. Perhaps it has to do with the warmth of the lighting and the colour palette, as well as the use of nostalgic music and art direction. Whatever it is, from the first frame, you know the director loves this sad sack and wants us to love him too.

The films of the Helsinki Trilogy all deal with people on the margins, and it's clear that Kaurismäki's sympathies lie with the common people and not with those whose success or power has dehumanized them. He is a true humanist, and his "heroes" all bear their sufferings stoically; in fact, they quite literally personify a "never-say-die" attitude, and that makes them admirable. Their hangdog expressions may make us pity them, but it's their core of inner strength that makes us love them.
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losing it in style
squelcho9 November 2006
I saw this film as part of the London Film Festival and would recommend it simply on the basis that it held my interest from start to finish after a very long day at work. The only other movies I saw which managed this feat were Taxidermia and Big Bang Love, both extraordinary films in their own individualistic ways.

Kaurismaki inspires a certain hangdog cynical joi de vivre and leaves his audience to extract the humour based on their own mistakes/prejudices. So is it a great film? Not particularly, but it's a very clever piece that drags you into a vortex of depression and loneliness, and almost forgets to return to the surface. The acting is relentlessly downbeat, the script a tour de force of clumsy unspoken angst, and the whole is a beautifully tongue-in-cheek lesson in the art of 21st century minimalist expressionism. Personally, I find Kaurismaki's comedy blooming in the banal stupidity which informs the painful learning process of his clumsy but lovable characters. No assumptions of sophistication, only aspiration to a meagre level of happiness. Just like 90% of the world's population. Compassionate humanism and world-weary cynicism are constant bedfellows in the Kaurismaki canon. Who would want it any other way? Cigarette?
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A fitting last stop for the Finland trilogy
ejs-807 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"Laitakaupungin valot" is the last episode for the Aki Kaurismäki's Finland trilogy whose previous items were "Drifting Clouds" and "The Man Without a Past".

The main character of the latest installment is a lonely and badly treated night guard Koistinen who in many ways is the male version of Iris from "The Match Factory Girl". Having seen both of these films it is impossible to avoid certain comparisons, and it can be said that in some ways you can invent more tragic stories for a female character than a male one because of her possibility to become a mother. However, you can also certainly absorb yourself into the story of the male main character of "Laitakaupungin valot" and feel empathy for him.

In this movie Kati Outinen does a flash-like cameo appearance as the clerk of a Cassa shop, and the performers of the bigger parts are quite well accustomed to the Kaurismäki's style of film-making. Maria Järvenhelmi does a quality job but is not able to drain that last drop from her role that differentiates it from the classic Eve of "All About Eve". On the other hand, this may partly advance the realism of the movie. Janne Hyytiäinen, who plays the main part, is also very believable in his role, although I do not consider him to be quite as magnificent "silent film actor" as Kati Outinen was in previous parts of the trilogy.

The music of "Laitakaupungin valot" deserves a special mention, since with it the aesthetic style of Kaurismäki really flowers. Skillfully have been also selected those moments where the silence is the loudest instrument. What comes to the other content, there is a plenty of Kaurismäki's trade-mark dry humor at the beginning of the movie, especially at the coffee shop scene, but when the film goes on its comedic currents almost totally vanish and the dramatic values take over. Another notable feature of this work is its exceptional amount of smoking (even for Kaurismäki), which is possibly caused by the director's own agenda of opposing the ban of smoking in restaurants.

In any case, "Laitakaupungin valot" is a quality work, and it is assured that the friends of Aki Kaurismäki won't be disappointed in seeing it.
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Great conclusion of the "losers" trilogy
MaxBorg8911 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
After Drifting Clouds (1996) and the Oscar-nominated The Man Without a Past (2002), Aki Kaurismäki ends his "losers" trilogy with what appears to be his most cynical film to date.

Lights in the Dusk (the Finnish title, Laitakaupungin valot, is inspired by Chaplin's City Lights) is a quite unusual Kaurismäki movie, mostly because of the absence of his regular acting ensemble (the exception being Kati Outinen in a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo, reminiscent of Shadows in Paradise). In fact, the leading thespian is the rather unknown Janne Hyytiäinen, who had a minor role in The Man Without a Past. He plays Koistinen, a lonely, naive night watchman with no social life. The only "real" relationship he has is his friendship with the female owner of a hot dog stand, but then again it's all limited to small talk about how boring his life is. Imagine his surprise, then, when one night a woman decides to keep him company in a cafè (when told she sat next to him because he looked lonely, the night watchman's priceless answer is "And now what? We're getting married?"). Overenthusiastic, Koistinen asks this lady out and brags about his "luck" with the hot dog woman. If only he knew, poor fella: his "girlfriend" is actually connected with the Russian underworld's Helsinki branch, and the only reason she's dating the unlucky fool is to help her superiors frame him for a crime. You can imagine how things go from this point on.

Lights in the Dusk is all we could expect from Kaurismäki, but fails to reach the levels of previous masterpieces for two reasons: first of all, the whole thing about a guy being sent to jail for a crime he didn't commit sounds all too familiar (Ariel, anyone?). In addition, there are moments where the director's pessimism gets too frustrating for the audience, as he seems to have no intention of making his antihero's situation a little more bearable.

That's why we're caught completely off guard when he finally offers redemption and hope, all made more effective by the extremely bold decision to save it for the very last shot. His intriguing analysis of solitude, expressed through many beautiful symbols (the abandoned dog above all), climaxes into one stunning, undeniably powerful image, the best ending the Finnish master has ever come up with. For that shot alone, Kaurismäki deserves universal plaudits.
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the arid, bitter-sweet beauty of despair
CountZero31326 October 2008
Night watchman Koiskinen lives an alienated life. Ridiculed and shunned by his workmates, regarded as incompetent by his employers, he lives alone, drinks alone, and only manages to talk in any decent way with the woman who sell hot dogs in the fast food stand. His life changes when a mysterious blond takes a sudden and unexpected interest in him.

As a Kaurismaki novice, I was struck by the spartan sets, strong primary colours, and the actors penchant for walking briskly into frames and then freezing, akin to amateur theatre in the village hall. Once you figure out it is all a send up, the film is fun and moves along quickly enough. The dry, pared down dialogue, lack of sentiment, and black humour are interspersed judiciously. There seems to be a record attempt for number of cigarettes smoked in a film going on. The Finnish attitude to alcohol makes Scotland seem like Utah. Throughout it all, Koiskinen infuriates with his passivity. His minor triumph at the end, finally making the right decision, is small, fleeting and perfect in this context. The film is both downbeat and uplifting. I don't recommend watching Kaurismaki films back-to-back, but as an antidote to an overdose of Transformers or Harry Potter, this works perfectly.
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downward spiral
mykxxxxxxx25 January 2007
This film is an excellent comment on the downward spiral of an individual resulting from a very unequal society with a faulty / oblivious criminal justice system that punishes the innocent, band-aids the symptoms of social ills, but does not address root causes, and the long term social effects of imprisonment. The little guy's life is ruined while the real criminals get away with anything - just like in the real world! Hard work gets you nowhere! Neither does loyalty! It presents in a wonderfully bittersweet way the existential angst of a life at the bottom, just scraping by, against the coldness and apathy of a kind of extreme-Darwinian world where life is brutish and short. Ultimately, a tiny crack of light opens at the end, through humans simply caring for each other. But, like in the real world, you might die before anything good happens. A very stylized film, filmed almost like a comic book, impeccably detailed, spare, and melancholy but beautiful.
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Kaurismaki goes Kafka and fluffs the laugh cues.
peter-byrne15 January 2007
Aki Kaurismaki has an instinctive knack of laying down a story. He also presents the interest of being on the margins of life in a marginal country. Think of "Hamlet Goes Business". But in "Lights in the Dusk", Kaurismaki goes Kafka. He leans toward the fable, a genre hard to make into a decent movie. This one follows an honest loser to disaster. The character only manages to crawl out of the pit at the last minute by finally accepting partnership with another, more cautious loser. Visually splendid the film shows us Helsinki in all its modern, hard-edged, hostility, and together with the acting has a flawless unity of style. A.K.'s quirky humor is much less in evidence than usual though you might call a joke the fact that the loser's life in jail is roughly like his existence before he goes inside and after he comes out. Indeed the only time we see him socially at ease and smiling is in the prison yard when spring comes to Helsinki.
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A Kafkaesque, Urban Film-Noir about Loneliness, Alienation and Marginality
ilpohirvonen15 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Lights in the Dusk finished a trilogy started by Drifting Clouds (1996) and The Man without a Past (2002). Whereas the first dealt with unemployment and the second with homelessness, the third is about loneliness which is actually a part of all of them or, to put it simply: all the films by Aki Kaurismäki are about loneliness. But in Lights in the Dusk this theme is at its most honest, ruthless and clearest. Alienation and the difficult relation to others always characterizes his heroes. His films are about the inevitable marginality of these kind of people who have no job and no home.

Basically, this is the story: A lonely watchman in Helsinki becomes acquainted with a woman who then turns out to be a real femme fatale who works for a small Russian crime organization. The woman entices the man and succeeds in getting the security codes for a jewelry business in a shopping mall he guards. The criminals rob the place and vanish into thin air. The man gets caught but doesn't report the woman nor the organization. He gets sent to prison but is quickly released to probation. After a desperate attempt to revenge, he gets beaten up and ends up lying on the ground at the dock.

Aki Kaurismäki is a true minimalist and one can clearly see the influence of Robert Bresson and Jean-Luc Godard in his work. His philosophy of acting that "there is no acting" has made him famous all over world. He is extremely talented in turning insignificant to meaningful which is, of course, the core of minimalism. He has been developing his style into more and more aesthetically severe, close to Bressonian aesthetics but his style has never been as self-conscious as it is in Lights in the Dusk: there is nothing insignificant in the 'mise-en-scene' which is absolutely precisely considered.

In the 'mise-en-scene' of Lights in the Dusk the characters live under bright colors and brutal light which are antitheses for the contrasts of black-and-white cinema. The simplified palette (the red of the indoors and the blue of the outdoors) resembles Bresson and it places the characters in closed milieus: small apartments, narrow halls and offices, run-down taverns and the kitchen of the restaurant all of which are also part of film-noir. What is important is that all these milieus are characterized by blindness and stagnation. All the icons of the visual world of film-noir can be found there as can the ingredients of the story: dangerous women, desperate men and moral complexity.

Kaurismäki has always told stories about "losers with high morality". About the Finnish agony, and he often focuses his expressionistic eye on one character who in Lights in the Dusk happens to be Koistinen, played by Janne Hyytiäinen. The title of the film comes from the classic City Lights and just as Chaplin's tramp so does the protagonist of Lights in the Dusk try to find a crack in the world from which he could crawl in. But just about everything slows him down. Both, his fellow men and the faceless social machinery crush him down over and over again. His work, freedom and dreams are constantly being taken away from him.

In the world view of Kaurismäki an individual can't survive without getting corrupted and hurt. The film is full of milieus that are like diseases from a sick society which is controlled and organized by money -- and a society like this inevitably drives people in alienation. The protagonist of Lights in the Dusk has got a job and an apartment but still isn't part of the society, and one who isn't can't even be sure of one's own existence now days. He has buried himself in a shell of loneliness. From his fellow workmen he only gets derisive words, and he seems to be neglecting the only real interest towards him from the corner store vendor. His silence is actually a form of defense: he can imagine himself as a hero who corrects injustices.

Loneliness is the only way how the protagonist can resist the society where nothing but money and power matter. In front of the police investigation he again answers with silence. He protects the woman who cheated him but isn't this act really done just because he still has got a hope of getting her back? His attempt to kill the gangster is just ridiculous. By doing this he just proves that he clearly doesn't understand the rules of the game. The consequences of his acts are actually not important. It doesn't matter anymore whether he succeeds or not. However, the protagonist can't keep doing this 'act of silence' for the rest of his life. Beaten up, half-dead by the dock he takes the helping hand of the corner store vendor. She resuscitates him from the dead. This final scene with enormous power bears a striking resemblance to Camus' The Stranger where the protagonist can finally see, in his death row. For the first time the man reacts with something else than silence and, therefore, his shell starts to collapse.

Lights in the Dusk isn't a pessimistic film. Sure it's a tragicomedy with a desolate world view but its ending resembles Drifting Clouds with its optimism in misery. Aki Kaurismäki is a cheerful pessimist and this is definitely one of my favorites by him, although I am not the greatest fan of his. The noir-like atmosphere: the milieus, rainy streets, wet and moist surfaces, moral complexity and femme fatales make it an extraordinarily brilliant film in the midst of modern European art-house. If alienation, loneliness and marginality of an individual in today's society are the themes of Lights in the Dusk its thesis might just be this: to get up one must go down; and the only way to a new rise is going down to the gates of hell.
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Karuismäki rounds out his Loser Trilogy
Chris Knipp30 November 2006
At the center of this film is a man named Koiskinen (Janne Hyytiainen). He is an isolated security guard and his story is one of cruel deception and eventual, utter downfall.

Though Koiskinen's slicked-back hairstyle wouldn't seem fashionable outside of a Forties gangster film, he's really not a bad-looking guy; he just isn't a leading man. But Koiskinen's outcast status is a given we can't question. He has a slightly hangdog quality. He has dreams of starting his own company, but this seems a laughable illusion; he is scorned even by his coworkers. He has no life. The uniform, cigarettes, the lockers, the cold nightly guard duty, a dreary flat. These are the boundaries of his existence.

In fact what's curiously enchanting about Kaurismäki: the analytical certainty of his downbeat riffs.

Quite inexplicably, Mirja (Maria Jarvenhelmi), a well-dressed, striking, enigmatic woman, almost albino in her blondness, picks Koiskinen up in a bar and begins dating him. How can he resist? Her motives, however, are none too good. In fact they are of the worst kind. She is the agent of a nefarious higher power. You might not think Finland had gangsters but this is Helsinki, and the wide shots of the dark city at night are luminous and powerful, underlined by haunting tango music -- not an arbitrary but an indigenous choice, because after Argentina, Finland is the first capital of the tango. The movie is drenched in romantic music -- Puccini, Manon Lescaut, Gardel's "Volver," and Finnish tangos. There is a sweep about it, but the sweep is ominous.

Koiskinen has no part of the city's power, except as its victim. He exists to be exploited -- and with rigor. It's sad, because no matter how bad things get, he goes on dreaming. But his life is a dream, and he is unaware of what's happening to him. Out of deference, Finns don't like to look you in the eye when they speak. Aila (Maria Heiskanen), the woman who cares about Koiskinen, who runs a refreshment stand in a vacant lot, he has little use for.

Kaurismäki's sequences of scenes are as bold and assured as they are ironic. This is a pessimistic, but curiously vibrant view of life. There was never a more willing dupe than Koiskinen. This film has the squirming life of a pool full of sharks devouring carp.

Laitakaupungin Valot, called Les lumières du faubourg or "suburban lights" in its French release and Lights in the Dusk in Canada, is in fact a coolly ironic reference to Charlie Chaplin's City Lights. It is a devastating finale to Kaurismäki's "Loser Trilogy," which began with Drifting Clouds and continued with A Man without a Past. This may be the best of the three. Its mood of twilight doom is unforgettable.
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Kaurismaki is a god of cinema
slake098 February 2008
Lights in the Dusk is another in the series of movies about Finnish life that contain the same elements; deadpan dialog, subtle humor, stubborn protagonists, semi-happy endings. If you're into this style of film, you'll really like it. However, it's an acquired taste, not for everyone.

Our anti-hero is a security guard, caught up in a criminal plot, ultimately taken advantage of by a beautiful femme fatale but redeemed by the love of a good woman. That sounds like a simple plot, but as seen in the movie it's anything but simple.

I've seen references to a trilogy, mentioning this film along with Man Without A Past and Drifting Clouds. That seems to ignore Match Factory Girl, which fits right in with the rest. I've seen most of Kaurismaki's work and liked everything, I really groove to the retro style, the deadpan acting, the plots which seem simple but are in fact very complicated.

If you like Kaurismaki, or are in the mood for something different, check it out. At the very least you'll remember it and think about it.
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Quick review from the Toronto International Film Festival
bombippy8 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film earlier today at the Toronto International Film Festival. Here is a quick review.

Lights in the Dusk is the third film in a trilogy directed by Aki Kaurismäki. A few weeks ago I rented the second film in this trilogy, The Man Without A Past—a charming film about an outcast that deals with loneliness, love and his place in the world.

Lights in the Dusk also focuses on an outcast—a lonely security guard who works nights in Helsinki. Koistinen doesn't have any friends or family that we know of. He isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer and will do anything for a woman that shows any interest in him.

Koistinen's character is naive and innocent. He's duped by a beautiful blonde and set up for robbery he didn't commit. His life is a miserable series of injustices.

As depressing as all of this sounds, Kaurismäki has crafted a touching film that I enjoyed thoroughly. It has a style that is unique to Kaurismäki through the music, the quirky characters and the timelessness of the sets. Great film.
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Same Stuff Different Day
cinemart11 September 2006
When you find a formula that works, you often stick to it even to the point of spinning your wheels until you become something of either an establishment or a cliché. Director Aki Kaurismaki may do well to bare this in mind before embarking on his next languid look at sad-faced Finns moving in somnambulistic circles through the streets of Helsinki.

Perhaps considering JUHA and MAN WITHOUT A PAST too fast-paced, Kaurismaki slows down the action in LIGHTS IN THE DARK to a snail's pace.

Despite making me wonder if Kaurismaki is playing it safe by recycling the same ideas, his films are often like comfort food and it would take a lot to make me sick of macaroni and cheese. Rather than keeping on the safe ground, Kaurismaki could follow in the footsteps of his friend and fellow minimalist auteur Jim Jarmusch and make Finnish equivalents of GHOST DOG or DEAD MAN. On second thought, keep with what you're doing, Aki.
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simple yet memorable film
grondag24 April 2009
I love foreign films. Maybe its because they aren't spoiled with the propaganda and commercialization prevalent in Hollywood films. This little jewel has made a place as one of my favorites. I discovered it on the Sundance Channel one day in August but I didn't watch it all. Even then I realized it would be best to watch it in colder weather to match the climate on the film. I only watch Dr. Zhivago in January or February. This film is wonderfully minimalistic. It doesn't tax your brain but is never boring due to the absorbing cinematography. Also, I love films that have a lot of quiet passages and this one does not disappoint. Thank God for movies like this. They cleanse the palate of inferior Hollywood drivel.
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It is still Kaurismäki, is it?
GilbertBr21 March 2007
Compared to normal Hollywood movies I still enjoy Kaurismäki's films, but this is definitely not one of his best ones.

One of the biggest problems of this film is the director's attitude towards his main character. Koistinen's situation is getting worse with every action he takes. That's not the problem, but Kaurismäki doesn't offer a minimum of possible explanations to Koistinen's behaviour.

I don't expect a complete interpretation of his work by a director or by an author, but as a viewer of a film or as a reader of a book you need at least some information to start at. So I can only imagine that the reasons for Koistinen's behaviour lie in his state of mind and/or in his past.

But this is criticism at a high level. There are still some typical Kaurismäki-scenes in this film which I like a lot.
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An unfortunate under-achievement from Kaurismäki.
vento_keiu3 February 2006
Aki Kaurismäki's trilogy about Finnish depression and it's results began with Kauas Pilvet Karkaavat, dealing with unemployment, and continued with Mies Vailla Menneisyyttä, about homelessness. Both are exceptional works. Now, the ending chapter is out in the form of Laitakaupungin Valot, a story of loneliness, betrayal and sacrifice.

I read the script of this film when it was going to production, and saw the result at the Finnish premiere last night. As much as I'd like to tell you otherwise, Laitakaupungin Valot is not a good film. The growth needed between the script and the final film just never came to pass here. The end result is shallow and unfinished, despite all its potential.

The story is straightforward enough: a security man, lonely and bullied, meets a femme fatale, who sets him up for his gullibility and loyalty. The course of the story is clear from the beginning to the inevitable end; indeed, Kaurismäki reveals the whole story in his synopsis of the film.

The femme fatale, a central figure and most controversial character, remains shallow despite her potential. Why does she do what she does, does she feel regret or pity towards the man she's cheating? How does she feel about the man, perfectly aware of her betrayal, going down for her? That's problem number one: None of the characters develop during the film, and we are not aware of their motives. They end as they begin, as does the story; everything is as it seems. The story does not suffer from it, but without anything to chew on the experience remains shallow.

Also the choices of the security guard do not make the audience care one bit about what happens to him. He knows the woman is betraying her, but allows it to happen. We're led to believe it's because he has fallen in love with her. But that does not really hold; he's not in love with her, merely an image of some kind of a dream woman. It's pride that leads him to prison; he's not trying to protect her, but himself from admitting he's been tricked. In the end, his fate is his own doing; his pride, his problem. That's problem number two: The audience does not care about the characters. None of them have any good qualities, there's nothing to grasp and like, or even understand.

The third problem is the world Kaurismäki paints: his image of Finland, stylistic fifties, the one through which audiences abroad have learned to see us. But this story is not timeless, it's very much attached to today and today's problems, and fifties cars and radios simply do not fit in with the glass and metal scenery of Ruoholahti. They stand out and detach from the realism of the story, eats away its credibility. How much more powerful would it have been, if the security man's basement apartment would have looked like a crude, concrete basement and not been carefully styled with antique cupboards, radios and painted walls? On the other hand, nostalgia works very well musically here; Melrose's live performance rocks and rises above anything else in the film.

Laitakaupungin Valot has all the potential, but does nothing to achieve any. The story is fine - it wouldn't need twists and turns to work. It compares well with Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves; both have a main character sacrificing themselves completely for petty reasons. Both also pace their story with still, calm images of scenery, Ruoholahti or Scotland. Von Trier manages to pull it off for two reasons as I can see it; he takes the tragedy far further, taking it on to another level, and mirrors the audience's response with the main character's sister-in-law, in whom is all the growth and compassion compressed. Laitakaupungin Valot could have gone so much further. It's a shame, and we're all wondering what the hell happened.
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great directorial talent in a very minimalistic movie
dromasca30 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Aki Kaurismaki is a great director, and yet, I would love to see him taking over some more ambitious projects. 'Lights in the Dusk' is a wonderful film from many aspects, and yet the lack of ambition of his principal hero seems to somehow overcome the whole atmosphere to an extent that it defies the logic, at least for the non-Finn viewer. The black and cynical humor in his Leningrad Cowboys series seems to have been overtaken here by plain despair.

The hero of the film Koistinen (we never know his first name) is the loneliest man on Earth. He is a night-watchman who seems to be unable to connect with any of his colleagues, the only human who seems to care for him being the woman from the hot-dogs kiosk whose existence he barely acknowledges. He is not a bad man, he cares for animals, he has some baseless plans to open a business of his own who are doomed to failure, as is any tentative to look into the eyes of a woman or to just connect at all with another human being. His way of being makes him the typical victim for a criminal scheme, and the price to be paid of those who will abuse him is no more than showing him that somebody maybe cares.

The cinematography of Kaurismaki is really exquisite. It is not only what he shows (the deeming lights and shades of the North, a city in an almost permanent night or dusk) but also what he does not show. An empty chair or a tripping closing door are for example his best means to describe a scene of violence without showing any violence. His actors are all wonderful, but their strength is better shown in the empty stares. They communicate or live their parallel lives in silence, and the film could have lacked any dialog without losing too much of his expressiveness.

And yet, at the end, this story of victimization and resignation risks to be too depressing to be convincing. It reminded me the end of the wonderful Romanian film of Cristi Puiu 'Moartea Domnului Lazarescu'. As in Puiu's movie, it is only in the last sequence that the hero acknowledges the hand of human solidarity that is trying to reach him. Viewers leave with the feeling of wishing maybe the hero would have dared and achieved more, or that the director could have done the same.
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There is certainly enough here to recommend as Kaurismäki takes a step back and looks at the downbeat nature of life, but it left me wanting a little more.
johnnyboyz23 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Lights in the Dusk is an odd little animal, a film that gives you archetypes of a genre and delivers a story it insists you find interesting before branching off into something else and then ending in a manner that, at least I, found abrupt. The title of the film is Laitakaupungin valot, Finnish for what I can only presume to be 'Lights in the Dusk'. The title suggests hope, it suggests something light or positive; something to map onto amidst the ever-growing darkness or 'dusk' around you as the light fades and the black creeps in. Given the final shot of the film, Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki seems to stay true to his word and the film's title but I felt short changed; as if there was something else that could've developed once the film had ended to do with a psychological study of absolute no hope, rather than giving us what we get (which is genre film-making) and then finishing on an ambiguous note to do with us asking 'what happens next'?

It's a strange feeling when you come away wanting to know what happens next in a film but it's an even stranger one when you feel what might've happened next could have been better than what you were given. All sorts of questions open up, mostly to do with love and relations and one's true feelings for the everyday person you feel like you know but really don't and whether or not the immediate resolution would have been enough for the film's hapless protagonist or whether he'd been pushed so far over the edge that revenge now seemed obligatory to him.

But hey, maybe that's the point or maybe Kaurismäki will revisit the cut off point in the future. The film as a whole is indeed an odd beast but an intriguing one, peeling off for long passages of scenes without dialogue before advancing the story at a relatively speedy pace, something that echoes life as a whole perhaps. The film is not shy of changing its pace as it places its noir infused, hapless protagonist at a dinner table waiting for his date as the minutes tick by. The next minute, he's showing her around where he works and this-is-this-and-that-is-that and the scene has finished.

The hapless lead is Koistinen (Hyytiäinen), a security guard at a Helsinki jewellers doing the night rounds more often than not. He meets Mirja (Järvenhelmi); the smoking, mysterious, alluring and relatively quiet femme fatale of the genre piece who works for some crooks that have bigger fish to fry, notably the jewels at Koistinen's work, and he is the way in. The film's idea looks good on paper, in fact it looks and sounds like a cracking yarn with the sort of sneaky approach behind it revolving around it being a 'hiest' picture not entirely about the heist. Ever think about when you last watched a really iffy heist film like '3000 Miles to Graceland' and you see any number of security guards or police officers getting shot or taking some other flack during the robbery? Well Lights in the Dusk is the sort of film that follows those wounded peace keepers (either physically, psychologically or whether they're 'in' on it or not) and develops them in the aftermath rather than the thieves.

The film's overall tone reminded me of another Scandinavian film of recent times, entitled 'The Bothersome Man' in its brooding and slow build up, a very quiet film; ominous at times as these strange places or people just exist – they do nothing much more but exist right there, doing and saying and expressing as little as possible. The editing and delivery in both films is very drab and downbeat but purposely so and thus gives off an odd atmosphere of the mysterious and uncertain. Koistinen and Mirja are not two of the most charismatic lead characters in a film ever but their relationship is never even 'so' in the first place so whatever communication or fondness there is will always be a result of Mirja's larger goal which is related to her employers larger goal.

To say whether the heist happens and what happens next feels like a crude spoiler. Just to say, the study of loneliness and the parallels between the alienation at work twinned with the feeling of being left out resonates as to where Koistinen ends up at various intervals, following his 'cutting off of contact' with said female interest. I just felt sorry for the guy; someone who just keeps getting knocked down and, I feel, builds up such venom of which we never get to see the consequence of, something that I've already said might make for an interesting study, immediately post-ending of this picture. This is a man's 'prior tragedy' event in any Hollywood film you like stretched to 80 odd minutes and for pulling that off you have to commend the director. In a sense, anyone that watches this are playing a 'Koistinen' role themselves with the director as the seducer, leading you down a route of the noir and of the 'hesit' genre before branching off to look at the results of said event and then ending on a distorting note leaving you wanting more. Regardless, I look forward to seeing some of Kaurismäki's other work in the future.
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strange but compelling film
Buddy-516 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Clocking in at a pithy one-hour-and-fourteen minutes, "Lights in the Dusk" is an existentialist Finnish comedy in which a mild-mannered night watchman, who seems to be living in a world of his own, becomes an unwitting patsy in a jewelry-store robbery when he opens up to a woman who has seemingly taken a romantic interest in him.

As the much put-upon working man who allows a femme fatale to trick him into doing her dirty work for her, Janne Hyytiaien gives a marvelously deadpanned performance that perfectly reflects the spare, archly humorous world director Aki Kaurismaki has created for the film. With a tone of cool detachment, the script rarely lets us into the mind of this strangely uncommunicative and inscrutable young man, whose emotions and thoughts are always buried somewhere deep beneath an expressionless surface. Yet, somehow, despite his reticence, he still manages to pique our interest and engage our sympathy, primarily because his predicament and his lack of a conventional reaction to it are both so comically unsettling. We find ourselves identifying and rooting for him even though we don't really get to know all that much about him. In a way, he reminds us a bit of Meursault from Camus' "The Stranger," a man so emotionally detached from the world around him that his actions aren't always explicable to those of us who are residing in the "real world" watching him perform them.

Though it is a difficult film to pigeonhole, "Lights in the Dusk" is a modest, unassuming work that touches both the heart and the funny bone in roughly equal measure.
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one of the worst Kaurismakis
battisti1 August 2007
When you get experienced enough as a filmmaker and you learned most of the tricks of the trade, you realise that the best thing to do for an art-house director is to stick mindlessly to whatever made you successful with the festival-going crowd and the film critics earlier. Never mind that you have no new ideas and that the most your film does is deliver the 'good old feeling' everyone expects.

That's a fate Kaurismaki seems not to have been able to avoid with his Lights in the Dusk. Totally devoid of ANY new or creative ideas with respect to what we have seen from him before, Kaurismaki's feature recycles his lately trademark - and otherwise very appealing - darkish, yet basically cheerful coloured backgrounds and surroundings behind and around the actors. But the story is the most feeble ever... No real suspense, only mindless clichés about a totally hapless main character (no, this is not irony on the film's part, guys, this is just the 'good-old-Kaurismaki-feeling' we yearn for and it only seems to work because his other films were enjoyable on their own). Plus some sentimental music tossed in (who would have expected that from Kaurismaki? ;), without the real possibility for the viewer to relate to the characters (you feel no sorry, no empathy, only anger at most about how incapable they are).

And finally, even at about 75 minutes, this movie is waaaay longer than it should be: another sign of running out of fresh ideas. Hey Aki, you'd better take a rest and come back with something that's more up to your standards. And my advice for the potential viewer: watch the other parts of the trilogy (The Man Without a Past, 2002; Drifting Clouds, 1996), and skip this one.
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The trip through the light
hasosch26 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is the story of Koistinen, Mirja and Aila. Koistinen is a night-guard in a modern business neighborhood in Helsinki. Besides doing his job, he has no contacts with other people except Aila at whose hot dog-stand he eats his daily meals. Secretly, he learns for economy exams in order to realize his dream to become a self-employed entrepreneur, but he does not really believe in his dream become true. Before and after work, he drinks, and this occupation helps him both to forget his desperate actual situation and to imagine a brighter future. The film is shot very darkly, and the task of the few lights is not to illuminate but to disclose - for the audience: Koistinen does not see. One evening, Koistinen's life seems to change: he meets the attractive Mirja. However, she is a gangster-bride, poisons his beer and steels his keys for the planned coup of her buddies. After the robbery, she returns to him and "wants to explain everything". Although Koistinen seems fully aware that he is cheated, he lets himself cheat, although he sees how Mirja hides the stolen keys and a few necklaces under his pillow, he just lets, what he thinks is his fate, go on. After Mirja left, he purposely awaits the police to arrest him in his apartment. He does not even defend himself.

Never ever has despair better been portrayed in a more subcutaneous way - not only as a trip into the light, but as a trip through the light - the light out of the darkness, not the light as opposite to night.
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In Finland, even the dogs are lonely
YohjiArmstrong22 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Plot: A lonely security guard is manipulated by a femme fatale working for a gang of jewel thieves

This is a film that is so bleak that it actually becomes very funny, in a slightly hysterical sort of way. It was recently broadcast in the UK at 2am, which must have made for a surreal viewing experience. The plot is minimal, the characterisation light, and the script short. Much of the film is taken up with long silences (in which the characters smoke), songs being played in full, and lengthy shots (check out the one of a card game in the gangster's den, where the femme fatale vacuums the carpet). The protagonist never actually does anything, preferring to simply let events wash over him, and for a thriller there are no thrills. Nor is there any action, or humour, or human warmth (the final shot excepted). Nonetheless, the film is gripping in a curious way, its bleakness and underdog hero proving strangely compulsive viewing.
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Lights in the Dusk
Tweekums9 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Koistinen is a night watchman at a shopping mall in the Finnish capital Helsinki; he is treated with contempt by his boss and by his co-workers but he has a dream of opening his own security firm. It soon becomes apparent that this dream will never be realised when he goes to see his bank manager to arrange the necessary financing and it turned down; the manager thinking Koistinen is wasting both of their time. One day it looks as if things might be getting better for him when an attractive woman, Mirja, sits opposite him in a bar and after a short chat invites him to ask her out. Of course things can't be that good for him; she is just using him to gain the security codes for a jewellery store so the men she works for can rob it. They aren't content to just rob the store they also frame him so he ends up spending a year in prison; but even after all that he doesn't tell the authorities about Mirja.

This film was nothing like I expected; it is film making at its most minimalist; there is almost no display of emotions and the settings are consistently bleak. Janne Hyytiäinen and Maria Järvenhelmi do well as Koistinen and Mirja; their characters may have zero chemistry between them but somehow it suits the cold feel of the film. Koistinen may not be the most sympathetic of characters but I found myself curious to find out what would happen to him and was ultimately pleased when the ending suggested that things might be about to get better for him. While this film lacks exciting action, laughs and likable characters it is worth watching if only because it is so different from typical Hollywood fare; also at seventy eight minutes it doesn't waste much time if it turns out you don't like it.
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the Finnish outsider
cliffhanley_9 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Like Kaurismaki's two previous films, 'Drifting Clouds' and 'Man Without a Past', this conjures up a world of despair, but shot in the Formica tones of a Doris Day comedy, without the emollient presence of incidental music.

The protagonist is almost totally inarticulate; it's impossible to tell whether this is through depression or dictated by an immutable moral stance. The night watchman, Koistinen, will not reveal the identity of the girl who set him up, exploiting his love-hunger, even when it results in his taking the rap for a bank robbery. At the same time he is blind to the love felt for him by an honest and wholesome burger-stall owner. The film takes in the breadth of Finnish society from dreadful poverty to obscenely glossy wealth, in murky aerial shots of the city as much as in the close-ups. Rather than stand up for himself, Koistinen practically sets himself up again and again, getting knocked down, or beat up on a regular basis. He is reminiscent of Meursault, the hero of Camus' The Outsider, who cannot produce the basic reactions and hypocrisy that society expects of him. But as with 'Drifting Clouds' the piling-up of grief and injustice leads to a tiny spark of hope in the final frames - and Kaurismaki admits to being a soft-hearted old man, so he expects us to see it that way. En route, it's a strange and dreamlike experience, being in the world of Kaurismaki. CLIFF HANLEY
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Foreign film stereotype
Sandcooler24 December 2008
I just didn't like this one, not a lot to be entertained by. It centers around a main character that is holding his balance between having bad luck and just being stupid. Most of the events are difficult to believe because there's no possible way this guy can't figure out the situation. But there you have it, he can't. The atmosphere tries to be grim, but it really steers more towards boring. Then we have the psychological approach, because our hero is usually alone. You usually get to know a movie character best when he's alone. Either way, all these scenes just seem really art-house, let's just film him doing some everyday thing and hopefully it will look smart. It's not about the plot, but the plot is so weak. And if you really want to make the viewer think he's intelligent you should just get rid of the story all together and randomly edit in shots of a wheelbarrow or whatever. Either way, this was pretty disappointing, whatever point it was trying to make. Worst thing probably is that I didn't care about the main character. I just didn't care, that made it difficult to watch.
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City Lights
rnd-321 April 2006
After seeing the movie I was a bit baffled.

I was wondering what the film was all about and if Kaurismäki had lost his touch.

Although symbolism was there all along, and very clear.

Nothing was hidden or concealed.

The necessary clues were given to the audience.

The name of the film is a reference to Charlie Chaplin's City Lights.

The resemblance between these films is very clear.

This film is a negative image of the original, a contradiction.

The Anti-City Lights.

One should be able to figure out this film pretty easily.
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