6 Best Movies Written By Aki Kaurismäki

Staff & contributors

With its 69-minute runtime, ultra-minimalist approach to camera movement, and dialogue so sparse it could fit onto a single page, the first word that comes to mind when describing The Match Factory Girl is “lean.” The second word is “bleak”: for most of the film’s slight duration, we watch as the lonely titular character (Iris, played by Kati Outinen) passively endures a relentless barrage of cruelties, whether from her coldly detached parents, callous love interest, or simply fate itself. 

And yet, these words — apt descriptors of the film as they are — only capture part of what makes The Match Factory Girl such a magnetic and unforgettable watch. When a late twist sees the film swerve into even darker territory, director Aki Kaurismäki’s twin approaches fuse into one that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Rendered in his characteristic deadpan style, the shocking event becomes sardonically funny — a gutsy move that only a real master of tone, as Kaurismäki is, could pull off.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Kati Outinen, Klaus Heydemann, Outi Mäenpää, Reijo Taipale, Richard Reitinger, Silu Seppälä, Vesa Vierikko

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

An early gem from Finnish maestro Aki Kaurismäki, Drifting Clouds is a deceptively simple story. The aftermath of job losses for wife Ilona (Kati Outinen) and husband Lauri (Kari Väänänen) holds a series of misfortunes, all of them tests to their marital bond. But this is only the beginning: as with Kaurismäki's endearing use of flat irony and detached performances by regular actors of his, things can only get worse before they get better. Humanism has always shined through the director's films, and this first part of a "Finland" trilogy makes no exception to the rule: the fact that labor and closeness are the two main themes (and are equally important for one's survival) already elevates the absurdist comedy to something way more caring, engaged, and ultimately, tender.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aarre Karén, Antti Reini, Clas-Ove Bruun, Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Kaija Pakarinen, Kari Väänänen, Kati Outinen, Markku Peltola, Mato Valtonen, Matti Onnismaa, Ona Kamu, Outi Mäenpää, Rose-Marie Precht, Sakari Kuosmanen, Silu Seppälä, Sulevi Peltola, Tero Jartti, Vesa Mäkelä

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Quaint and quirky, Le Havre is a beautiful and heartwarming story about the power of compassion and the importance of community. It tells the story of a shoeshiner who tries to save an immigrant child in the French port city of Le Havre. The charming characters are easy to root for as this community of everyday people bands together to help this young boy reunite with his mother. Even as the film rejects the unempathetic responses to the refugee crisis, it utilizes gentle humor and a light cadence to invoke empathy for others that should exist.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: André Wilms, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Ilkka Koivula, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Kati Outinen, Patrick Bonnel, Pierre Étaix

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Simple but lovely movies like Fallen Leaves are hard to come by these days. While others rely on complicated dialogue or overly ambitious premises to be deemed deep or important, Director Aki Kaurismäki trusts that his material is strong enough. After all, its silence speaks volumes; the characters don’t say much but when they do, you can be sure it’s something hard-hitting or funny. The plot doesn’t contain a lot of surprises, but when it makes a turn, it moves you instantly. And the leads, Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) barely move their features, but their eyes convey more emotion, more longing and ache and joy, than one can hope for. Some movies can be challenging, exhilarating, or exhausting to watch. This one is simply delightful. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alina Tomnikov, Alma Pöysti, Eero Ritala, Janne Hyytiäinen, Juho Kuosmanen, Jussi Vatanen, Lauri Untamo, Maria Heiskanen, Martti Suosalo, Matti Onnismaa, Nuppu Koivu, Olli Varja, Sakari Kuosmanen, Sherwan Haji, Simon Al-Bazoon

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Rating: NR

The magic of this movie — and every other one directed by Aki Kaurismäki — is in the way it inspires so much hope despite the darkness of its subject. When a man (Markku Peltola) is beaten and robbed one night, he wakes up without any memory of who he is. Forced to start life all over again, he’s subjected to yet more cruelty at the hands of a greedy slum landlord and callous authorities, but finds sympathy and support from his equally downtrodden neighbors. Though the street thugs have emptied his wallet, the unquestioning generosity of the people around him suggests he’s now richer than he was at the film’s outset — as does the sweetly simple romance he strikes up with a lonely Salvation Army worker (Kati Outinen). 

Kaurismäki doesn’t just make films about the disenfranchised for the sake of it: he shows us how easy — and yet momentous — acts of human kindness and solidarity can be, how radical they are in a bleak world. It’s not often a movie can so persuasively reassure us of people’s inherent goodness, but it’s even rarer still for it to be done with as much deceptive, charming simplicity as here.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Andrey Chernyshov, Anneli Sauli, Antti Reini, Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Janne Hyytiäinen, Juhani Niemelä, Kaija Pakarinen, Kati Outinen, Liisa Mustonen, Outi Mäenpää, Panu Vauhkonen, Pertti Sveholm, Sakari Kuosmanen, Silu Seppälä, Sulevi Peltola

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Finnish director and megastar Aki Kaurismäki hits with yet another absurd but poignant movie. The Other Side of Hope is about a Syrian refugee and his journey across Finland, both the country and the culture, in hopes for a fresh start. It's a genuine and simple movie, played masterfully by a cast of newcomers. But in its simplicity, it elicits empathy on a subject that most of us choose not to dwell on nowadays. Aki Kaurismäki has the unbelievable skill of distilling tragic events into their humane component. A movie to give credit to, and to watch without any prior expectations - unless you're familiar with Aki Kaurismäki's previous work.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Antti Virmavirta, Atte Blom, Clas-Ove Bruun, Dome Karukoski, Elias Westerberg, Elina Knihtilä, Esa Pulliainen, Hannu Kivioja, Hannu Lauri, Hannu-Pekka Björkman, Harri Marstio, Ilkka Koivula, Janne Hyytiäinen, Jörn Donner, Juhani Niemelä, Juho Kuosmanen, Jukka Virtanen, Juuso Hirvikangas, Kaija Pakarinen, Kati Outinen, Lauri Untamo, Maria Järvenhelmi, Marko Haavisto, Matti Onnismaa, Milka Ahlroth, Mirja Oksanen, Niroz Haji, Nuppu Koivu, Olli Varja, Panu Vauhkonen, Puntti Valtonen, Sakari Kuosmanen, Sherwan Haji, Simon Al-Bazoon, Sulevi Peltola, Taneli Mäkelä, Timo Torikka, Tommi Eronen, Tommi Korpela, Tuomari Nurmio, Ville Virtanen

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Rating: Not Rated