QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
The Kaurismäki brothers have become internationally recognised for their subtle Scandinavian humour. In Gracious Night, the older sibling – who has a career spanning nearly four decades, with about 30 feature films under his belt – seeks an ingenious solution to filming during the first wave of the pandemic, when lockdown regulations restricted the movement of European people, and crippled the film business.
Gracious Night takes place within the space of one night (Labour Day, May 1st 2020) and is centred almost entirely around three middle-aged male characters talking in a bar. The streets if Helsinki are empty and the hospitality sector has been forcibly shut down. The aptly named “Corona Bar” (after the beer, not the virus) is closed, but two strangers sneak their way in one at a time by convincing the landlord to serve them alcohol and charge a mobile phone. A sinister fact, however, is about to be uncovered. One of the avuncular and seemingly harmless man is a murderer sought by the police.
Despite the outrageous revelation, the three man continue to drink their wine and exchange random and peculiar insights into each other’s lives undaunted. Marital problems and family secrets surface, in a movie that was without a script and almost entirely improvised. At one point, a group of young people bursts into the bar, as does the tragic spouse of our protagonists. A jukebox playing “corny” Finnish songs provides the soundtrack. The men often sing along, in a cathartic gesture of liberation.
Red wine can do wonders. It is refreshing to see Finnish people talk so openly, in a culture far more used to stoicism. Their conversation moves in just about every direction, constantly seeking a more profound meaning. It feels like Kaurismäki is attempting to create some sort of Scandinavian Richard Linklater drama. Sadly he fails to achieve the depths of his American counterpart. The dialogue feels contrived and the plot is barely credible – hardly desirable for an unscripted movie. Broadly speaking, lack of plausibility is not an issue at all in cinema. We all love fantastic stories. Gracious Night, however, purports to be a humanistic film, and an unsound story is indeed a little problematic. While the characters are charming and endearing, their predicament feels mostly banal and unrelatable.
Gracious Night just premiered at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. It is part of the event’s Official Competition. Unlikely to travel beyond the Baltic Sea.