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Calamari Union (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on April 23, 2013

In the Kallio district of Helsinki, a group of men have decided to leave their unhappy lives, pull up stakes and head for the promised land of… the Eira district of Helsinki.  These men — all named Frank, except Pekka, who fancies himself a Travis Bickle type — will face many trials and tribulations in their epic journey, including accidental murder, intentional murder, attempted suicide, successful suicide, kidnapping, car theft, marriage, taking over a bar, psychiatry, betrayal, reunions with old lovers, and of course, rock and roll.

Kaurismaki’s first film, a modern adaptation of Crime and Punishment, is his most straightforward and serious.  His second film is his most surreal, in the vein of Discreet Charm-style Buñuel.  He takes what should be a minor undertaking — travelling across town — and blows it up to huge proportions, and then shrinks it down again by undercutting it with his signature deadpan (is anyone’s pan deader than Kaurismaki’s?) humor.  He’s taking a lot of grandiose dramatic clichés and stirring them into his universe.

Random absurdism only goes so far, and as with Even Dwarfs Started Small, I’m not as into this kind of thing as I used to be.  But this is a more entertaining venture.  Not as consistently entertaining as Leningrad Cowboys Go America — there are a few bits that don’t do much for me — but pretty enjoyable.  It doesn’t dwell on any one event long enough to get boring.

As a statement about the difficulties of improving your economic status in modern Finland, well… I’m not even sure that’s what it’s about.  I think it’s a reasonable reading of it, but I hesitate to read too much.  It’s mostly just a funny, unpredictable, absurd good time… with terrific music and very nice black & white photography.  Rating: Very Good (80)


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