CALAMARI UNION (Aki Kaurismäki, 1985)

By integrating both paintings and a comic book’s illustrations into its black-and-white world, writer-director Aki Kaurismäki’s second fictional work, Calamari Union, helps make that world all the more convincing as a means of grounding its absurdities. Finland’s greatest film artist ever applies his deadpan humor to this stark, scattered depiction of seventeen electric guitar- or keyboard-clad members of a rock band who decide to move from hard-luck, working-class Kallio to a more advantaged, and presumably advantageous, section of Helsinki. But these guys, long since stripped of their youth, will take their discontent with them, as prefigured in their hijacking a subway train—later, a couple of them steal a scooter—in order to migrate. The film is littered with gunshots and corpses, including theirs.
     This slight work, more a flexing of style and tone than a film (Kaurismäki has expressed dissatisfaction with it), mixes the influence of Jean-Pierre Melville and early Godard with Kaurismäki’s wryness and bleak social analysis. The fact that the men are all named Frank is telling. Their social background has ground them down into a sameness—one of numerous depleted souls facing the same dead-end. It is also possible that they once decided to rechristen themselves Frank to enhance their solidarity and to relieve themselves of the everyday burden of remembering who is who and what’s what. Their eyes generally hide behind dark glasses, even indoors, even outside at night—this, a complex denial of their anonymity by their insistence on it, in effect an extension of their same-namedness. It is also Kaurismäki’s exquisite joke, an allusion to the “ink” that squids eject to defend themselves. These men are the “Calamari Union.”
     Kaurismäki has famously said he was either drunk or heavily hung-over during the entire shoot. I don’t believe him.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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