New Orleans & PCA

Mikkonen’s Death from ARIEL (1988)

It’s true that PCA seems to end up in New Orleans a lot. It’s also true that it comes at a kind of awkward point in the semester — just before Easter. We always have our break much earlier, though there is the extra Monday off because we’re no longer a Catholic institution even though we maintain some of the habits.

But if I can go I always do go because amongst all the other fun things, Miss Wendy generally goes too and it is always too long since I have had a chance to hang out with her. And I got to talk about Aki Kaurismäki, one of my favourite directors. Here’s my abstract:

No Reason for Pessimism: Exploring Aki Kaurismäki’s Finnish ‘Noir’

It’s no surprise that the director who declared that, “Hollywood is the reason I make the films I do. Because I hate it,” has produced films that seldom fit within established mainstream genres. Blockbuster-level success has eluded Kaurismäki, unlike his fellow countryman Renny Harlin. One umbrella that covers many of his films is noir, both for their stylistic elements of mood and shadow and their frequent focus on crime narratives. Like traditional noir, there’s a focus on people on the wrong side of the law, the cracks in society and a downward spiral of luck. As Otto Penzler has said many times, “Noir is about losers.” Kaurismäki’s films are all about losers whose low expectations generally prove too ambitious, yet for all their noir trappings, there’s an element of positivity that undercuts genre expectations with a pitch-black humour. As the director has said, “When all the hope is gone, there is no reason for pessimism.” This presentation will focus primarily on the film Ariel (1988) with some references to analogues in both later and earlier films to explore how Kaurismäki uses the genre expectations and style of noir films to carve out a uniquely dark comic mode that offers a peculiarly Finnish sensibility, even when the director sets his films in England (I Hired a Contract Killer), the United States (Leningrad Cowboys Go America) or France (La Vie de Boheme, Le Havre).

Yes, I have lots of pictures, but no time to post them just yet — oh, here’s one: strange sights on Bourbon Street!

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