January 30, 2010

Drifting Clouds

I watched this film, sitting in the dark, with a mildly burnt hand in a bowl of cold water. I'd burnt it earlier in the evening whilst cooking. In a sense that incident sums up Aki Kaurismaki's style of film- he looks for the sad that would not be the subject of tragedy. It also sums up I think why this film is the only Romantic Comedy or one of the few Romantic Comedies I've ever liked and enjoyed. Kaurismaki has a sense both of the way that people work and of the small misfortunes that make up life. Drifting Clouds is about a husband and wife who suffer in the recession (presumably of the early 90s). They both live on the borders of poverty- the wife is a waitress, the husband a tram driver. They've bought a television and sofa and bookcases- but it will take them four years to pay off the loan and then they can buy some books for the bookcases (a wonderful comedic way of summing up the effects of their poverty). Both are approaching middle age- the wife Ilona is sacked by her resturant for being too old at 38 to be a waitress. Both are sacked in unfortunate circumstances- the husband when the tram company decides to lose a driver and the drivers draw cards for who will lose their job, Ilona when a new company owning her resturant decides they don't need her. The rest of the film is consumed with their efforts and the efforts of various characters around them to get out of economic distress.

The humour in the film is made up in part of the stoicism of the characters. Their expressions seldom change, when being sacked, getting ridiculously drunk, getting beaten up or whatever else. They bare every misfortune with a dull expectation of more to come- and when things do turn out to be worse than expected, the comfort they offer each other is minimalistic but meaningful. When Lauri, the husband, is turned down for a job as a bus driver because he is deaf in one ear (unknown to him), he collapses on the floor. Ilona asks him how he is, typically Lauri responds that he is ok- but she bends down to him and puts her cheek against his back. Its a gesture of solidarity and gestures are what this film is made of. Constantly the characters do and say less than they mean- it conveys much more of course because of the minuteness of the characterisation. Kaurismaki's camera eschews the dramatic- at one point Lauri gets beaten up but we do not see the beating, at another Ilona has to stop a drunken chef going postal, but we do not see but only hear her efforts.

This eschewing of the dramatic has an effect on the film- it renders the film less episodic. Instead of thinking about moments, you think about moods which stretch over sections of the film. This isn't a perfect film by any means- but it is an interesting one. It gets the sense of closing down of possibilities that poverty can and does represent: Lauri and Ilona slowly lose the potential avenues of exit from their situation because of their poverty, not of lack of ability. Ilona comes across throughout the film as an incredibly capable woman- but poverty closes down her options. Perhaps this is most vivid when in desperation she has to take a job for a resturanter who avoids tax- Ilona is of course the soul of rectitude and hands him her forms, which he puts in the desk. She cannot though walk away in the world of the film because that is the only way that she can earn money to support herself and Lauri.

I really reccomend this film as an avenue into the world of Kaurismaki- it is subtle and gentle and thoughtful. Its a fine beggining and introduction to a director who makes interesting pieces.


James Higham said...

What precisely wee you cooking? It sounds ambitious.