Bertolucci and Cronenberg may be turning into more conventional stylists as
they grow older, but you can't accuse Aki Kaurismaki of any such problem.
"Drifting Clouds" carries his deadpan directorial demeanor to heights of
minimalism hitherto undreamed of, even by Aki himself. The story is "ripped
from today's headlines," as studio publicists used to say--laid off from
their jobs, a wife and husband suffer various torments and uncertainties
before blundering into a happy ending as preposterous as it is
gratifying--but Kaurismaki's storytelling is anything but fashionable,
reducing montage and mise-en-scene to bare-bones necessities as if he had to
economize right along with the penniless protagonists, themselves played with
Bressonian rigor by the sort of glamourless performers Aki has favored
throughout his career.
Although it's dedicated to the late Matti Pellonpaa,
whose acquaintance I made (along with Aki's) during my years with the New
York Film Festival, this dark-and-dour romp has less humor than a
full-fledged Kaurismaki masterpiece like "La Vie de Boheme" or some of that
movie's immediate predecessors. But if it's not one of his most enjoyable
pictures, it's certainly one of the most impressive in its sheer stylistic
tenacity. It isn't every day you find a movie that makes the glacial "Match
Factory Girl" look like "Speed."
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