“One Night in Helsinki” in the cinema: In lockdown at the counter – culture

It’s getting light outside again. All lawful citizens begin a new life. Only you don’t belong, you’re separated from the others as if by glass: That’s kind of what it feels like to be left over from last night. Like Juhani, Heikki, Risto and Eeva. It’s one of the most unfortunate states of all. Unless the first rays of sunshine meet a completely new person, reborn while still alive. Like Juhani, Heikki, Risto and Eeva. And by what? By talking too much.

The cinema has played out this enchanting constellation many times, perhaps most wonderfully in Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise”. Back then, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy spent a night walking through Vienna, talking and talking, before she had to catch the train to Paris the next morning – and he had to wait for his flight home, to America. But these night talkers were young.

These are rather old, late 50s at least. And besides, they’re only men, until almost the end. It’s amazing at all. There are directors from whom nothing is expected other than that there is constant talking in their films. But Mika Kaurismäki, like his brother Aki, is not one of them. In a Kaurismäki film, it is usually the furniture that does the talking rather than its owner.

Past. Now even the Finns are becoming rhetoricians. Still, it all starts out very familiar: with a lonely, naturally silent morning runner in a lonely, naturally silent morning town. So Helsinki. And yet this sadness has another origin: This is Corona.

Brotherly message to all corona-stricken bar owners

It was a bit careless for Mika Kaurismäki to make a Corona film in the middle of the first lockdown. It premiered at the Tallinn Film Festival in November 2020. But who would still want to see Corona films when it’s all over? Nothing is over at the beginning of 2022, and so “One Night in Helsinki” is definitely his commentary on the current situation, maybe even Kaurismäki’s brotherly message to all corona-torn café, restaurant and bar owners. Because his film takes place in a closed bar called Corona, in his own. Brother Aki is the co-operator.

In the film, the owner’s name is Heikki (compact restaurateur: Pertti Sveholm), and of course he’s not allowed to let anyone in in the middle of lockdown. Whether he himself has the unrestricted right to stay in his bar, in the pose of a guest at that, at the set table by candlelight and with a glass of wine in hand, is probably not clearly regulated in the regulations.

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No wonder Risto (Kari Heiskanen) soon appears at the door, lured by the light. He feels like everyone else: the only thing that helps in this lockdown is a full bar and close conversations with friends. Especially since the doctor Risto is still in his very private lockdown, there is no other way to describe his marriage. And now he has also lost a young patient, almost a girl. That’s when the barman’s Corona regulations start to falter. He’s not allowed to serve anything, but maybe he could invite his friend for a glass of wine, in passing, so to speak.

(In the Berlin cinemas B-Ware!, Bundesplatz, Passage)

The latter quickly turns out to be an illusion. You can’t tell everyone everything at all times. Unless location and circumstances help. Kaurismäki originally wanted three men to meet in Dubai by sheer coincidence, which Corona prevented. But isn’t Helsinki an equally remote, very remote place in lockdown? And claustrophobia is Kaurismäki’s theme. There was no script, because a big, liberating conversation should generate its momentum from itself.

three players. Heikki quickly becomes certain that the stranger who suddenly appears in front of the counter is definitely the murderer they reported on the radio. And they talk each other deeper and deeper into the night, because violent criminals, especially if they are not professionals, sometimes show an increased need to communicate. Also, an often-overlooked feature of the coronavirus is its ability to infect everyone with what was already going wrong in their lives. Kaurismäki, on the other hand, proves to be a specialist in suggestive interior lighting, and after “Night in Helsinki” the viewer has a feeling that can only suddenly arise after long, really good conversations.


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