Aki Kaurismaki is a Finnish director known for his unique style, combining deadpan humor, social commentary, and minimalistic aesthetics.

His films often focus on the lives of ordinary people struggling to survive in difficult circumstances. Here are some of his best films:

“The Match Factory Girl” (1990) – A darkly comedic tale of a young woman who seeks revenge on her abusive family.

“Leningrad Cowboys Go America” (1989) – A hilarious road movie about a Finnish rock band trying to make it big in America.

“The Man Without a Past” (2002) – A heartwarming story about a man who loses his memory and starts a new life in Helsinki.

“Le Havre” (2011) – A charming film about a shoeshiner who helps a young African immigrant evade the police and reunite with his family.

“Ariel” (1988) – A gritty drama about a man who turns to a life of crime to survive in Helsinki.

Best Aki Kaurismaki Films

Kaurismaki’s films are known for their deadpan humor, minimalistic style, and poignant social commentary.

They offer a unique perspective on the human condition, exploring the struggles and triumphs of ordinary people with honesty and compassion.

1. Le Havre (2011)

“Le Havre” is a 2011 film directed by Aki Kaurismäki. It tells the story of Marcel Marx, an aging shoe shiner living in the French port city of Le Havre.

When a young African boy named Idrissa arrives in the city as an undocumented immigrant, Marcel takes it upon himself to help the boy evade the police and reunite with his family.

The film has been praised for its warmth, humor, and humanism, as well as its depiction of the challenges faced by immigrants in Europe.

Kaurismäki’s distinctive style is on full display, with his use of deadpan humor, minimal dialogue, and a focus on the lives of ordinary people.

The film also features an excellent cast, including André Wilms as Marcel, and a number of local actors from Le Havre.

   

“Le Havre” received critical acclaim upon its release, and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

It is widely regarded as one of Kaurismäki’s best films, and a moving tribute to the resilience and compassion of the human spirit.

Le Havre (English Subtitled)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Andre Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Actors)
  • Aki Kaurismaki (Director) - Aki Kaurismäki (Writer) - Aki Kaurismäki (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

2. Ariel (1988)

“Ariel” (1988) is a Finnish film directed by Aki Kaurismäki. It tells the story of Taisto, a coal miner who loses his job and turns to a life of crime to make ends meet.

Taisto moves to Helsinki, where he meets a group of social misfits and embarks on a series of heists and robberies.

Along the way, he falls in love with a single mother and must decide whether to continue his life of crime or start anew with her and her daughter.

The film is characteristic of Kaurismäki’s deadpan humor, minimalistic style, and social commentary.

It explores themes of poverty, unemployment, and the struggle to survive in a rapidly changing world.

The film’s gritty realism and raw emotion make it a powerful commentary on the human condition, as well as an engaging and entertaining film.

“Ariel” is widely regarded as one of Kaurismäki’s best films, and is a must-see for fans of Finnish cinema and art house films in general.

Ariel (1988) [ Blu-Ray, Reg.A/B/C Import - Finland ]
  • Ariel (1988)
  • Ariel (1988)
  • Matti Pellonpää, Esko Nikkari, Turo Pajala (Actors)
  • Aki Kaurismaki (Director) - Ariel (1988) (Producer)
  • English, Swedish, Danish (Subtitles)

3. Shadows in Paradise (1986)

“Shadows in Paradise” is a 1986 film directed by Aki Kaurismäki. It tells the story of Nikander, a garbage collector who lives a dull, unremarkable life.

But when he meets Ilona, a supermarket cashier who is also bored with her life, they begin a tentative romance and dream of a better future together.

The film is notable for its deadpan humor, minimal dialogue, and use of long takes and static shots. Kaurismäki’s style emphasizes the mundane and the ordinary, but also finds beauty and meaning in the small details of everyday life.

   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghuSkyWcmqg

The film’s romantic subplot is subtle and understated, but also moving and heartfelt, and is brought to life by the excellent performances of its two leads.

“Shadows in Paradise” was Kaurismäki’s breakthrough film, and helped establish him as one of the leading figures of the Finnish New Wave.

It is widely regarded as a classic of European art-house cinema, and a testament to the power of understated, humanist storytelling.

Shadows in Paradise (1986) ( Varjoja paratiisissa ) [ Blu-Ray, Reg.A/B/C Import - Finland ]
  • Shadows in Paradise (1986) ( Varjoja paratiisissa )
  • Shadows in Paradise (1986)
  • Varjoja paratiisissa
  • Matti Pellonpää, Kati Outinen, Sakari Kuosmanen (Actors)
  • Aki Kaurismaki (Director) - Shadows in Paradise (1986) ( Varjoja paratiisissa ) (Producer)

4. The Man Without a Past (2002)

“The Man Without a Past” (2002) is a Finnish film directed by Aki Kaurismäki. It tells the story of a man who is beaten and left for dead in a Helsinki park, and wakes up with no memory of who he is or where he comes from.

He is helped by a group of homeless people who give him a place to stay, and he begins to rebuild his life from scratch.

As he adapts to life in Helsinki, the man begins to fall in love with a Salvation Army worker and becomes involved in the lives of those around him. However, his past soon catches up with him and threatens to ruin everything he has built.

“The Man Without a Past” is characteristic of Kaurismäki’s deadpan humor and minimalistic style, as well as his exploration of the struggles of ordinary people in difficult circumstances.

   

The film is a heartwarming and poignant story of redemption and the human spirit, told with Kaurismäki’s trademark wit and compassion.

It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and won the Grand Prix award. The film is widely regarded as one of Kaurismäki’s best works and is a must-see for fans of Finnish cinema and art house films.

The Man Without a Past [DVD]
  • Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen, Juhani Niemelä (Actors)
  • Aki Kaurismäki (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Finnish (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)

5. Drfiting Clouds (1996)

“Drifting Clouds” (1996) is a Finnish film directed by Aki Kaurismäki. The film follows a couple, Ilona and Lauri, who both lose their jobs in Helsinki and struggle to make ends meet.

Ilona becomes a waitress at a restaurant, while Lauri takes odd jobs and eventually becomes a security guard.

The couple’s financial problems deepen, and they are forced to make difficult decisions in order to survive.

Despite its bleak subject matter, “Drifting Clouds” is a humorous and hopeful film that captures the resilience of ordinary people in the face of adversity.

The film is characteristic of Kaurismäki’s minimalistic style and deadpan humor, as well as his exploration of the human condition in contemporary society.

“Drifting Clouds” was a critical and commercial success, winning several awards at film festivals around the world and cementing Kaurismäki’s reputation as one of Finland’s most important and innovative filmmakers.

The film is widely regarded as one of Kaurismäki’s best works and is a must-see for fans of art house cinema and Finnish film.

Drifting Clouds (1996) ( Kauas pilvet karkaavat ) ( Far Away the Clouds Escape ) [ Blu-Ray, Reg.A/B/C Import - Finland ]
  • Drifting Clouds (1996) ( Kauas pilvet karkaavat ) ( Far Away the Clouds Escape )
  • Drifting Clouds (1996)
  • Kauas pilvet karkaavat
  • Far Away the Clouds Escape
  • Kati Outinen, Kari Väänänen, Elina Salo (Actors)

6. The Match Factory Girl (1990)

“The Match Factory Girl” is a 1990 film directed by Aki Kaurismäki. It tells the story of Iris, a young woman who works in a match factory and lives with her abusive parents.

Her life is changed when she meets a man named Aarne, but her attempts to find happiness are ultimately thwarted by the harsh realities of her situation.

The film is notable for its minimalist style and darkly comic tone, as well as its exploration of the themes of social inequality and the human costs of industrialization.

Kaurismäki’s distinctive use of deadpan humor and static shots creates a sense of distance from the characters, while also underscoring their isolation and alienation from society.

The film’s bleakness is tempered by its moments of wry humor, as well as the excellent performance of Kati Outinen as Iris, which imbues the character with a sense of dignity and resilience.

“The Match Factory Girl” was the third and final film in Kaurismäki’s “Proletariat Trilogy,” which also included “Shadows in Paradise” and “Ariel.” It is widely regarded as one of Kaurismäki’s best films, and a searing critique of the injustices of contemporary society.

The Match Factory Girl (1990) ( Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö ) [ Blu-Ray, Reg.A/B/C Import - Finland ]
  • The Match Factory Girl (1990) ( Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö )
  • The Match Factory Girl (1990)
  • Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö
  • Kati Outinen, Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari (Actors)
  • Aki Kaurismaki (Director) - The Match Factory Girl (1990) ( Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö ) (Producer)

7. Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989)

“Leningrad Cowboys Go America” (1989) is a Finnish film directed by Aki Kaurismäki. The film follows the adventures of a fictional rock band called the Leningrad Cowboys, who embark on a journey to America in search of fame and fortune.

The band is composed of a group of eccentric and colorful characters, including the lead singer, who sports a tall pompadour hairstyle, and the band’s manager, who is a hard-nosed businessman with a heart of gold.

The film is a quirky and irreverent comedy that blends elements of satire, music, and road movie genres.

It is also notable for its eclectic soundtrack, which features a mix of original songs and covers of classic rock tunes, performed by the Leningrad Cowboys and their friends.

The film is characterized by Kaurismäki’s trademark deadpan humor and minimalist style, as well as his exploration of themes such as the pursuit of the American Dream and the challenges of cultural identity in a globalized world.

“Leningrad Cowboys Go America” was a critical and commercial success, both in Finland and internationally, and helped to launch the careers of the Leningrad Cowboys as a real-life musical act.

The film is now regarded as a cult classic and a landmark of Finnish cinema, as well as a must-see for fans of offbeat comedy and music films.

Leningrad Cowboys Go America
  • Audio CD – Audiobook

8. La vie de boheme (1992)

“La Vie de Bohème” is a 1992 film directed by Aki Kaurismäki. It is a loose adaptation of the novel “Scènes de la vie de bohème” by Henri Murger, which tells the story of a group of struggling artists living in Paris in the mid-19th century.

The film is set in contemporary Paris and centers around three bohemian friends: Marcel, a struggling writer; Rodolfo, a struggling painter; and Schaunard, a struggling musician.

The film is notable for its absurdist humor, deadpan performances, and visual style, which mixes elements of French New Wave and German Expressionism.

Kaurismäki’s use of black and white photography, long takes, and static shots create a sense of detachment and irony, while also underscoring the melancholy and isolation of the characters.

The film’s bittersweet ending is both funny and poignant, capturing the paradoxical nature of the bohemian lifestyle, which is both romantic and doomed.

“La Vie de Bohème” was Kaurismäki’s first film set outside of Finland, and is widely regarded as a masterpiece of international art-house cinema.

It is a celebration of art, friendship, and the creative spirit, while also serving as a critique of the harsh realities of poverty, exploitation, and marginalization.

La Vie De Boheme (English Subtitled)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Matti Pellonpää, Evelyne Didi, André Wilms (Actors)
  • Aki Kaurismäki (Director) - Aki Kaurismäki (Writer) - Aki Kaurismäki (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

9. Calamari Union (1985)

“Calamari Union” is a Finnish film directed by Aki Kaurismäki and released in 1985. The film is a surrealistic and absurd black comedy that tells the story of a group of men, all named Frank,

who live in the Helsinki neighborhood of Kallio and decide to form a secret society called the Calamari Union.

The Franks have a list of ten obscure street names in their neighborhood, and they set out to walk from one end of Kallio to the other, visiting each of these street names in turn, with the ultimate goal of reaching a bar called “Dubrovnik”.

Along the way, they encounter various strange and comical situations, such as being mistaken for a gang of robbers, getting involved in a street fight, and encountering a talking dog.

The film features Kaurismäki’s signature deadpan humor, minimalist style, and emphasis on the lives of working-class people.

It also includes a strong soundtrack featuring the music of the Finnish band Sleepy Sleepers. “Calamari Union” was Kaurismäki’s second feature film and marked a significant step in his development as a director.

While “Calamari Union” was not a commercial success at the time of its release, it has since become a cult favorite and is considered a key work in the history of Finnish cinema.

The film’s blend of absurdist humor, quirky characters, and vivid urban landscapes has influenced generations of filmmakers and helped to establish Kaurismäki as one of the leading figures of contemporary European cinema.

10. The Other Side of Hope (2017)

“The Other Side of Hope” is a 2017 film directed by Aki Kaurismäki. It tells the story of a Syrian refugee named Khaled who arrives in Helsinki, Finland, in search of asylum.

The film interweaves Khaled’s story with that of a Finnish salesman named Wikström, who leaves his wife and job to pursue a career in the restaurant business.

The film is notable for its use of deadpan humor, minimalist style, and humane portrayal of its characters.

Kaurismäki’s direction emphasizes the absurdist and surreal aspects of contemporary society, while also revealing the poignancy and dignity of people struggling to survive in a world that often seems indifferent to their plight.

“The Other Side of Hope” is a powerful and timely exploration of the refugee crisis, xenophobia, and the resilience of the human spirit.

It is a moving and compassionate work that highlights the importance of empathy, solidarity, and hope in a world fraught with uncertainty and division.

The Other Side of Hope
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen, Ilkka Koivula (Actors)
  • Aki Kaurismäki (Director) - Aki Kaurismäki (Writer) - Aki Kaurismäki (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

3 Characteristics of Aki Kaurismaki Films

Here are three characteristics of Aki Kaurismäki’s films:

Deadpan humor: Kaurismäki’s films often feature deadpan, dry humor, in which characters deliver their lines without emotion or reaction, even in the face of absurd or outrageous situations.

Emphasis on working-class life: Kaurismäki’s films often focus on the lives of working-class people, highlighting the struggles and difficulties of everyday life, often in bleak urban or industrial environments.

Minimalist style: Kaurismäki’s films are known for their spare, minimalist visual style, often featuring long takes, static shots, and a muted color palette.

He also employs a distinctive soundtrack, often featuring a mix of vintage rock and roll, blues, and Finnish tango music.

3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Aki Kaurismaki Films

Here are three reasons why you should watch films by Aki Kaurismäki:

Unique visual style: Kaurismäki’s films have a distinct visual style that blends deadpan humor, melancholy, and stark realism.

He often uses long takes, static camera shots, and minimalistic staging, giving his films a distinctive, austere look.

This creates a sense of detachment and irony, underscoring the bleakness of life, while also highlighting the absurdity and beauty of everyday moments.

Social commentary: Kaurismäki’s films often address serious social and political issues, such as poverty, immigration, and exploitation. He does so with a wry sense of humor and an eye for the absurdities of life.

His films are thought-provoking and can inspire discussion about important topics, such as inequality and human rights.

Compelling characters: Kaurismäki’s films are populated by complex, compelling characters who are often struggling to find meaning and connection in a harsh, unforgiving world.

They are portrayed with humanity and empathy, even in their darkest moments, and are often able to find moments of beauty and hope amidst the challenges they face.

As a result, Kaurismäki’s films are both thought-provoking and emotionally affecting.

Best Aki Kaurismaki Films – Wrapping Up

In conclusion, Aki Kaurismaki is a talented filmmaker who has produced a wide range of films over his career.

His films are known for their unique visual style, social commentary, and compelling characters.

Some of his best films include “The Match Factory Girl,” “La vie de boheme,” “Shadows in Paradise,” and “The Other Side of Hope.”

Each of these films showcases Kaurismaki’s skill at telling engaging stories that blend humor, melancholy, and realism.

Whether you are a long-time fan of his work or are new to his films, any of these titles are a great place to start exploring his filmography.