This first retrospective of the work of Aki Kaurismäki (Orimattila, Finland, 1957) in a modern art museum complements the Museum’s research into the 1980s as the origins of contemporaneity, but it inevitably surpasses this framework. With a filmography that is the literature and at the same time the image of cinematographic modernity, that is theatrical parody and documentary realism in equal proportions, that links utopia to impotence and humour to tragedy, Kaurismäki’s cinema is based on the paradoxes and fault lines of contemporaneity.
Organised into eight sessions, with a master class and a final carte blanche program of films selected by the filmmaker himself, each session takes the name of a popular song used in the director’s filmography. At the same time, the sessions establish a dialogue between a feature-length film and a short film from this foundational stage, many of which have been recovered, subtitled and screened for the first time in cinema.
Faced with a degrading reality, the main weapon of Aki Kaurismäki’s cinema has been to construct its own cinematographic space as a sphere of resistance. The filmmaker has taken it upon himself to examine, coldly and with indifference, the workings of a society that acts as a machine which shatters the individual. However, Kaurismäki has also proposed in his stories the counterpoint to this idea, and has set counterfires wherever the poorest classes have found refuge and reached a truce of silent solidarity and obstinate love.
With the title After the Shipwreck, this program examines the search for a promised land or a utopian community in the filmmaker’s earliest works. The dialectic between resistance and flight, between everyday violence and the search for utopia, between sordidness and the sublime, is especially present in his early productions. The characters appearing in this early stage are declassed persons – those who clash violently with Finnish society immersed in a neoliberal process of change and “normalization”.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its melancholic nature, these films have a combative political dimension that does not involve dogmas or the teaching of lessons. On the contrary, this dimension can be seen in the matter and the manner of operating in the distribution of the sensible, to use the words of Jacques Rancière, drawing horizons of resistance with the methods of cinema.