The younger member of Finland's most prolific and irreverent filmmaking team, Aki Kaurismäki, together with older brother Mika, virtually invented the "new Finnish cinema." In complete control of their own company, Villealfa (named in honor of Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville), the Kaurismäki brothers produced fascinating, steadfastly eccentric films with astonishing frequency, beginning with The Liar in 1980. Their work -- which comprised one-fifth of the Finnish film industry's total output since the early '80s -- was distinguished by generous doses of raunchy humor, dead-on satire, a deliberate destruction of cinematic conventions, the carefully calculated smashing of censorial dictates, and, above all, an overwhelming sense of the absurd.
To keep costs low, Aki and Mika alternated the writing and directing chores. Aki's directorial efforts included Rikos Ja Rangaistus (1983), a free-wheeling classical adaptation of Crime and Punishment, and Hamlet Goes Business (1988). One of the best-known and best-distributed of the Aki-directed Villealfa films was Ariel (1989); this black comedy about the picaresque misadventures of an unemployed miner was honored with a Best Foreign Film award by the National Society of Film Critics. Its story and protagonist reflected Kaurismäki's preoccupation with down-on-their-luck loners driven to outrageous acts by an oppressive society, a theme that was also particularly evident in The Match Factory Girl (1989) and I Hired a Contract Killer (1990).
One of Kaurismäki's most internationally popular films was 1989's Leningrad Cowboys Go America. A farcical look at a group of Finnish musicians who proudly bear the title of "the worst rock & roll band in the world," the film was a joyous lampoon of the far-reaching impact of American pop culture. Its popularity inspired Kaurismäki to make a sequel, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (1994), as well as a documentary, Total Balalaika Show (1994). The latter documented a Helsinki concert featuring the Leningrad Cowboys and the Alexandrov Red Army Chorus and Dance Ensemble, a roster that was dubbed by one Variety critic as "the most incongruous -- and inspired -- cross-cultural pairing since Nureyev danced with Miss Piggy." In 1999, Kaurismäki switched gears from deadpan comedy to romantic drama with Juha, a love story set in the 1970s. The fourth adaptation of a love triangle set in the 18th century between a woman and two men, it was shown silently with close-captioned dialogue and accompanied by live music composed especially for the film. In addition to their work behind the camera, the Kaurismäki brothers have done much to further the public's appreciation of cinema as the creators and managers of the annual Midnight Sun Film Festival.
Remaining consistantly busy by alternating between duties as writer, director and producer of numerous films in the following years, Kaurismaki would draw perhaps the most notable international attention to date with the release of his film The Man Without a Past in 2002. His patented subtle, world weary humor perhaps more effective than ever, the refreshingly original film followed 1996's Drifting Clouds as the second film in the director's highly regarded "Finland" trilogy. An undeniable international success, The Man Without a Past was nominated for numerous prestigious awards including an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and a slew of European Film Awards. The film took home six awards including Best Film at the 2003 Jussi Awards, as well as recieving Best Actress, Grand Prize of the Jury and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury awards at Cannes. Despite all of the films international success, the director would court controversy by both pulling out of that year's Oscar telecast and boycotting the N.Y Film Festival due to political reasons. In 2003 Kaurismaki contributed to the collaborative cinematic effort Ten Minutes Older by directing the segment Dogs Have No Hell.