Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki closes out his so-called "Loser Trilogy" of heartfelt genre pastiches -- a trio of films that also includes DRIFTING CLOUDS (1996) and THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (2002) -- with a hardboiled tale of l'amour fou and a conscienceless femme fatale.
Even after three years on the job as a security guard for the Western Alarm company, Koistinen (Janne Hyytiainen) is still treated like an outsider by his fellow night watchmen. The shift supervisor still asks him his name before he signs him out, and Koistinen is pointedly ignored by his coworkers when they make plans to grab a quick drink after work. The only person who seems to pay Koistinen any mind whatsoever is Aila (Maria Heiskanen), the equally lonely woman who mans the all night grill truck where Koistinen stops on his way home to his drab apartment on the Helskini waterfront. Steeped in his own misery, he has no idea that the hard-bitten brunette serving him frankfurters in the pre-dawn hours is in love with him. The only girl Koistinen does think about is the wholesome seeming blonde (Maria Jarvenhelmi) who approaches him one night in a cafe. She introduces herself as Mirja and, sensing his loneliness, makes it very easy for him to ask her to a movie. With her sweet smile and playful sense of humor, Mirja begins chipping away at Koistinen's defensive shell and he soon falls madly in love. But in reality Mirja's in cahoots with some very bad men who counting on her to win Koistinen's heart, then steal the security code to the jewelry store he guards at night -- a store they're planning to knock-over. Even worse, Mirja considers Koistinen a loser and wimp and plans on dumping him as soon as she gets what she needs. Mirja, however, knows nothing about the tenacity of the human heart, a tenaciousness that strengthens even when its breaking.
Whereas Kaurismaki conceived DRIFTING CLOUDS as a treatment of unemployment and THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST a study in homelessness, LIGHTS IN THE DUSK is meant to be an ode to loneliness, but it’s a film so fully steeped in the motifs and iconography of old Hollywood that there always seems to be a certain ironic distance keeping the audience at a slight remove. Nevertheless, it's a handsome production, and a pleasure to watch. With a shadowy palette and a set design reminiscent of Edward Hopper's nocturnes, a soundtrack hearkening back to the sounds of vintage rock 'n' roll, and a cast of characters straight out of a James M. Cain novel, Kaurismaki's remains true to his chief inspiration: vintage Americana. leave a comment --Ken Fox