Ariel (1988)

Genres - Adventure, Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Adventure Drama, Road Movie, Romantic Adventure  |   Release Date - Aug 10, 1990 (USA)  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - Finland   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

Aki Kaurismäki's Ariel is one of the prolific filmmaker's most accessible and satisfying films. As in his later international success, Match Factory Girl, Kaurismäki infuses a tale of desperation and woe with dry wit. Clocking in at a laconic 74 minutes, the film tells Taisto's (Turo Pajala) hard-luck story with exemplary economy. Ariel has a meticulously measured pace. It isn't exactly a laugh riot, but Kaurismäki's coldly comic set-ups eventually hit their mark like a slow-motion pie in the face. For example, there's a wry joke introduced in the first few minutes of the film involving Taisto driving across the freezing roads of Finland in a convertible with the top down that doesn't reach its genuinely hilarious payoff until close to film's end. There's a brief scene of comic violence, in which a gunman dispatches two foes with a single shot, which is cagily set up earlier in the film by a clip of Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra. Kaurismäki has a sly, deadpan comic perspective that's informed as much by his subversion of cinematic convention as it is by his appreciation for the more sardonic side of human existence. The amusingly glum performances he gets from his cast, including Susanna Haavisto as Irmeli, and especially Matti Pellonpää as Mikkonen, add to the strangely entertaining pall that envelopes the film.