Another beautiful loser from Finland

Times Staff Writer

Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki concludes his self-proclaimed “Loser’s Trilogy” with the thoroughly deadpan drama “Lights in the Dusk.” After “Drifting Clouds” and “The Man Without a Past,” which focused on joblessness and homelessness, respectively, “Lights” takes on loneliness, an affliction that plagues a none-too-bright Helsinki security guard named Koistinen (Janne Hyytiainen).

His co-workers routinely ridicule him and women snub his romantic overtures with such regularity it hardly fazes him. Benumbed to his surroundings, Koistinen fantasizes about starting a rival security firm to put his current employer out of business. But when he attempts to act on it, even the loan manager at his bank humiliates him.

Koistinen’s days and nights are an exercise in the solitary life as he moves grudgingly between his job and his sparse apartment, brushed aside by nearly everyone he encounters. He stops by the frankfurter stand run by Aila (Maria Heiskanen), whose hints at a connection go unnoticed by Koistinen.

Things begin to look up when a steely blond, Mirja (Maria Jarvenhelmi), agrees to go out with him. But it’s a classic noir setup. She’s playing him for a patsy, using him to get security codes and the keys to a jewelry store for her gangster boss, Lindholm (Ilkka Koivula), and his Russian mob.


There’s a dry humor underlying the absurdity of Koistinen’s experience. When things cannot possibly get worse, they do. When it seems like time he catches a break, he instead catches another beating.

Considering his bleak themes, writer-director Kaurismaki’s films are surprisingly accessible. Koistinen is a recognizable type, the working stiff who passes through life largely unnoticed. He could be a character in “Eleanor Rigby.”

Visually, Kaurismaki and cinematographer Timo Salminen flatten out everything. The colors are muted and scenes are staged as Edward Hopperinflected tableaux. Even the expressionless faces of the actors suggest paintings.

The distance Kaurismaki creates belies his deeply humanistic streak. He engages characters in the direst of situations not to see them suffer but to search for hope. Is there a place for the Koistinen’s of the world?

Indeed. All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

“Lights in the Dusk.” In Finnish with English subtitles. MPAA rating: Unrated. Landmark’s Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A. (310) 281-8223.