Drifting Clouds (1996)

Drifting Clouds (1996)

A deadpan comedy about the troubles of poverty in a consumerist world, they exist even in Finland

The Very Best

8.5

Movie

Finland, France
Finnish
Comedy, Drama
1996
AKI KAURISMÄKI
Aarre Karén, Antti Reini, Clas-Ove Bruun
97 min

TLDR

That one film that makes a desirable profession out of hospitality work.

What it's about

Ilona is a head waitress at a restaurant and her husband Lauri is a tram driver, until they both find themselves out of a job and struggling to make ends meet.

The take

An early gem from Finnish maestro Aki Kaurismäki, Drifting Clouds is a deceptively simple story. The aftermath of job losses for wife Ilona (Kati Outinen) and husband Lauri (Kari Väänänen) holds a series of misfortunes, all of them tests to their marital bond. But this is only the beginning: as with Kaurismäki's endearing use of flat irony and detached performances by regular actors of his, things can only get worse before they get better. Humanism has always shined through the director's films, and this first part of a "Finland" trilogy makes no exception to the rule: the fact that labor and closeness are the two main themes (and are equally important for one's survival) already elevates the absurdist comedy to something way more caring, engaged, and ultimately, tender.

What stands out

"Bad news can wait," says Lauri to his wife, in order to counter her accusation that he hasn't told her he's been jobless for a whole month. It's hard to talk about 'chemistry' between actors in works as deadpan as Kaurismäki's, but Outinen and Väänänen surely share it. Their quips, blank stares, and absurdist version of intimacy become markers of a great on-screen fit, a fact trialed and tested by time as they will go on to become regular collaborators to the Finnish director. Here, Ilona and Lauri only have each other, when jobs and lives fail them. But Kaurismäki's romanticism isn't straightforward. Instead, it is baptized by fire in the cruel circumstances of working class life in Helsinki; and yet, a smile or a shared silence hold as much meaning as any conventional romantic gesture in another, more openly sentimental, kind of cinema would.

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