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Shadows in Paradise

Aki Kaurismäki

Lonely garbageman Nikkander (Matti Pellonpää) finds himself directionless after losing his friend and co-worker to a sudden heart attack; unlikely redemption comes in the form of plain supermarket cashier Ilona (Kati Outinen, in her first of many performances for Kaurismäki), with whom he begins a tentative love affair. Boiling down what is essentially a romantic comedy to a series of spare and beautiful gestures, Kaurismäki conjures an unexpected delight that finds hope blossoming even amid gray surroundings.

“Kaurismäki found his distinctive laugh-or-cry balance and socialist footing with “Shadows in Paradise” (1986), a noir-romance that is neither very noirish nor romantic, but rather establishes its own vocabulary of droll absurdity, of backbeat silences and inexpressive mopeyness, as instant Kaurismäki axioms Matti Pellonpää and Kati Outinen, playing a dimwit garbageman and a kohl-eyed supermarket clerk, find each other in the dreary low-rent corners of Helsinki and, almost off-handedly, go on the run from the law, trying to make a life together. “Trying” may be too strong a word — in Kaurismäki’s films, part of the poignant, cosmic comedy derives from the sense that the characters’ options are already spent, their life energy is all but used up, and that they go through the motions of life out of habit and a residue of preposterous hope. It’s a minor-key masterpiece, but every Kaurismäki film feels like a blessing, as he balances a rueful gallows humor with genuine sympathy for his near-catatonic people, and creates a visual sensibility so rigorous and unpatronizing that it musters metaphoric notions about the meaning of human life and about socioeconomic injustice without lifting a finger.” Michael Atkinson, IFC

“Kaurismäki is a true original, endlessly championing his underdog characters against whatever fate can throw at them, and always finding it in his heart to reward them (and us) with a glimpse of hope – and love – at the end. Comedy rarely comes so bleak, and depression is rarely so funny…Shadows In Paradise is a stony-faced comedy of underclass solidarity, as Nikander, Ilona and Nikander’s friend Melartin (Sakari Kuosmanen) all watch out for each other when no one else will.” Anton Bitel, Eye For Film

“Kaurismäki’s third film, 1986’s Shadows In Paradise, created a solid prototype for many projects to follow—a short, bleak, yet oddly hopeful and sweet-natured tale that incorporates a soundtrack loaded with vintage American blues, Finnish pop music, and jukebox rock ‘n’ roll. Matti Pellonpää and Kati Outinen, who would become Kaurismäki regulars, star as a garbage man and a grocery-store cashier whose tentative relationship plays out in bingo parlors and ramshackle Helsinki apartments. Kaurismäki doesn’t get too ambitious, but one exchange neatly encapsulates his sensibility: “I’m not going to die behind the wheel,” says a garbage man with entrepreneurial vision. “Then where?” Pellonpää asks. “Behind a desk,” he replies.” Scott Tobias, AV Club

“Signature Kaurismaki! Beautiful composition and deadpan humor, this is not your typical rom com. If you have a penchant for stoicism and cigarettes, this film is an askew vision of Helsinki’s outskirts. This debut bodes well for the remainder of the ‘Proletariat Trilogy.'” – Stephanie C, Rotten Tomatoes


  • 4/8 | 7:00PM
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