Iron Sky (2012)

Iron Sky (2012) movie poster

director Timo Vuorensola
viewed: 01/19/2015

Moon Nazis.

This comic sci-fi vision imagines that the Nazis escaped to the dark side of the moon in the waning years of WWII and have been hiding out there with limited versions of technology ever since.  But when a mission to the moon, manned by an African-American actor playing an astronaut as a re-election stunt by a Sarah Palin-esque president stumbles on them, an inevitable clash is sprung into motion, including space dirigibles and Nazi moon men.

This Finnish/Australian/German production is a camp piece with a few quite funny aspects to it, though overall it’s almost a Troma film in other ways.  I do give them credit for adherence to silliness.

Felix and I watched this at his behest.  I had queued it up because I’d read something about it being weird or something.  We both kind of enjoyed it for what it was.  Felix was shocked to hear that a sequel was in the works, due out next year at the time of my writing this.

Le Havre

Le Havre (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Aki Kaurismäki
viewed: 12/24/2011 at Opera Plaza Cinemas, SF, CA

Quirky Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s newest film, Le Havre, reckons quite a bit with the last of his films that I had seen, his 2002 movie, The Man Without a Past.  In The Man Without a Past, we have a mysterious fellow who is beaten up and then loses his memory, winding up living on the outskirts of Helsinki in a shipping container.  In Le Havre, we have a kind shoe shine man, living on the outskirts of Le Havre, making ends meet barely, who meets up with a young boy from Gabon, who has arrived in France via a shipping container.

Similar in style as well, the film plays its politics gently but clearly.  Images of immigrants being rousted up and imprisoned or deported play on the televisions around the world of shoe shine man, Marcel Marx (André Wilms) and his little cafe and neighborhood.  The kind but dutiful inspector, Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), is on the trail of the boy to whom Marx takes “a shine to” (sorry).  Marx’s strange, retiring wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen), takes mysteriously and seemingly terminally ill while much of the drama unfolds.

The thing about the people in Kaurismäki’s films is that they are mostly kind, cool, and well-meaning.  While one of Marx’s neighbors is trying to get the police after him, the rest of them all work together to raise money to send the boy on to his mother in London.  Even the inspector allows for this to happen without bringing on the authorities.  It’s not very realistic.  The racism and nastiness that is part of France (and probably all parts of Europe) in fears of immigrants hardly exists in Kaurismäki’s worlds.

It’s like he’s created these characters and these situations and just doesn’t want to see anything bad happen to them.  So he gives them the happy endings that would not very likely occur in real life, suggesting a cool, kind, progressive world where people actually do sympathize and care for one another.  And they are rewarded with happy endings and “miracles”.  It’s little surprise when Marx’s wife, Arletty, bounces back miraculously from her terminal illness.

The naïveté of Kaurismäki’s world isn’t pure naïveté, but a knowing and hopeful vision.  An off-beat, low-key, but upbeat tale for modern Europe.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) movie poster

(2010) director Jalmari Helander
viewed: 12/20/2011

Adapted from a pair of short films into a feature-length one, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale offers a potentially dark and comic take on the Santa Claus mythology.  Unfortunately, as a feature film, it loses sight of what made the original short films funny and successful.

The short films are mock documentaries about a group of Finnish hunters who track Santa Clauses, as if they were naturally occurring fauna of the region.  These Santas are wild beasts who have to be captured and then trained to let little kids sit on their laps (without eating them) before they can be shipped off all over the world.  And a lot of bad things can happen if they are not handled properly.

Reprising roles from earlier films, the group of men are cast as isolated reindeer hunters, living on the edge of the wilderness, bordering Russia.  And an American company has come to dig up the long-lost original Santa Claus, who has been buried in ice below a mountain for centuries.  Somehow, a little boy has all these books about how the original Santa was actually a monster like something from a Goya painting, a giant who didn’t deliver gifts but doled out punishment and ate little children.  The boy recognizes that unearthing this Santa is a bad thing.

When “the monsters” finally show up onscreen, they are a bunch of old men, running around in the snow naked.  These are the equivalent creatures that are hunted in the earlier films, but here they are said to be Santa’s elves,  minions trying to free the giant Santa beast from the ice in which he is encased.

The giant Santa never makes the scene.  He gets blown up while still in the ice.

So, you have a movie about a vengeful dangerous Santa (who never gets defrosted).  It’s not without its humor or its moments.  It’s not unlike Trollhunter (2010), another Scandinavian horror film based on indigenous mythologies pressed into the modern world.  But I can’t help saying that I felt a little bit disappointed by it.  And then I watched the short films and realized that they were better than the feature itself.

My advice: watch the shorts, forgo the feature.

The Man Without a Past

The Man Without a Past (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Aki Kaurismäki
viewed: 04/18/03 at Castro Theater, SF, CA

I saw this film as what will probably be my only venture out to the San Francisco International Film Festival this year. I would love to have seen some more films but my schedule isn’t working with the festival’s schedule this year. It’s a shame, because I would love to have gone to see more films, but that’s the way it goes.

The Man Without a Past is a sweet-natured, simple comedy, somewhat absurdist and intentionally off-beat. Shot almost entirely in Helsinki and largely down at the industrial waterfront of the city, Kaurismäki paints a picture of the world of the financially marginalized in Finland’s capitol. It’s not a “realistic” portrait, not one steeped in a naturalism or even a faux naturalism, but rather a portrait that teeters on the surreal, reckoning of the lighter side of David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch perhaps. I’d only seen one of Aki Kaurismäki’s other films, Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989), but I get the impression that his narrative style might well be aligned with those directors more than not.

The film follows the character of M, played by Markku Peltola, who develops amnesia after being severely beaten upon arriving in Helsinki. He builds a life among the slums of the city, living in a shipping container near the industrial waterfront. There is a gentle quirkiness to the people that he meets and the life that he develops, inflected with a sort of disgarded music soundtrack of obscure American rock and roll from the late 1950’s to early 1960’s (I am guessing at its period).

The story is almost naïve-ist in its tone and content, evoking humor from small moments and strange juxtapositions. Kaurismäki ‘s portrait of the people that live on the outskirts of the city of Helsinki and Finnish society in general shows them as good-hearted and decent, odd but kind. The film is sort of “softly” political, in that regard, though not confrontational at all. There is a great simplicity to it and an easy charm, perhaps there is a sense of naïveté in not just the film’s tone but the film’s construction. If so, it is one that is quite appealing.