With this we head into the Great White North...of Europe...which would be Finland. 1988's Ariel is by Aki Kaurismaki. This is the first film of his we've come across in the Criterion Collection. He has a signature style that is evident from the first few scenes. To me, watching this film was like revisiting the late '80s early '90s film world. It wasn't just the fashions and music though that was a large part of it. There's a style to the films of that period. This is when pop culture really started to become pervasive and I think that had a lot to do with the visual style. The main hero in Ariel dresses like one of the Reservoir Dogs even though the two films are nothing alike. But both Kaurismaki and Tarantino were looking back at old movie stories. They both approached this material from a different angle.
Ariel opens with a mine in the north of Finland being blown up and sealed. That means a lot of jobs are vanishing from this small town. The main character Taisto is told by his father, just before the man commits suicide in a diner restroom, to get out of town and find his fortune. The only thing left to Taisto is a convertible with a top that he doesn't know how to operate. So Taisto drives to the big city, with the top down, in Finland in winter. Here is where Kaurismaki's style really shines. Everything is muted and underplayed. There's no histrionics. The scenes are filmed in long takes. The actors barely emote. They're almost stereotypes of the depressed, stoic Scandinavian. What Kaurismaki is doing is contrasting that stoicism with situations that demand an emotional outburst; like for example driving with top down through a snowstorm. I know I'd be a lot more animated.
Taisto's arrives in the big city but is promptly robbed. He manages to shack up with a single mother and her son but then gets thrown in jail for ironically mugging the man who robbed him. Inside he teams up with a convicted murderer. Together they bust out of prison. But in order to get the money they need to escape the country they have to pull off a a robbery for two very untrustworthy crooks. okay maybe this is a lot more like Reservoir Dogs than I let on. Through it all Taisto and those around him stay subdued. Taisto doesn't even show emotion when he tosses a prison guard off a walkway. There are also bits of dark humor, like the solution to the convertible's top. Finally Taisto and his new family sail away to freedom as a Finnish version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow plays over the end credits.
Ariel was a wild ride and a great discovery. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of Kaurismaki's films. They are worth while studying for any directing student. The script as you might guess is a little too subdued. It's very execution dependent and that's something beginning writers should avoid.