Review: Gracious Night
by Marta Bałaga
- Mika Kaurismäki makes a case for obeying stay-in orders during the pandemic – as long as you are staying in a bar
The concept of “lockdown movies” has justifiably been receiving some bashing lately, as while it's understandable that filmmakers would want to address it, it's also understandable why people would not want to watch it, tired of the constant news coverage and opting for Emily in Paris instead. In his latest Tallinn Black Nights competition film, Gracious Night [+see also:
interview: Mika Kaurismäki
film profile], Mika Kaurismäki just about gets away with it, as instead of Zoom calls – the horror! – he shows three men getting together in an empty bar, talking and finally getting a taste of what's in some of its special bottles.
The whole setup is a bit of an inside joke, as that's precisely what he did in 2008’s Three Wise Men [+see also:
film profile], with the exact same people. Times change, but men still need to vent. Timo Torikka, Kari Heiskanen and Pertti Sveholm play different characters now, meeting not on Christmas Eve, but on May Day (not that anyone would guess it based on the weather), and making use of the director's very own bar in Helsinki, recently relocated, to the despair of many. They follow the same method based on improvisation, too, as despite a writing credit shared with Sami Keski-Vähälä, according to the director, there was no script to be found.
And it definitely shows: they come up with their own stories, their dialogues often veering from pretentious to pointless, sometimes going into so much detail that you wish they would just switch to some stronger booze. Then there is one plotline seemingly purloined from that season of Desperate Househusbands that we never got to see, as Torikka's stranger is soon revealed to be someone other than a worried grandfather-to-be trying to charge his phone. They do share an easy chemistry, though, and as the pouring begins, they find some relief in getting things off their chests. Including one guy's marital issues, summed up by a short: “She is home, but I don't think she is expecting me.” Needless to say, she is not at home, my dear, and she has something to say, too – leave it to Anu Sinisalo to end the pity party for good.
Kaurismäki doesn't seem that interested in documenting the actual pandemic, save for a shot of someone leaving groceries by the door or a railway station occupied only by the homeless and a stray pigeon. That's probably a good call as, let's face it, empty streets in a sparsely populated Finland do not pack a similar punch to an empty New York, and once that's out of the way, Gracious Night becomes what it wanted to be all along: a slight, intimate drama about men delighting in getting a load off their minds over sandwiches, interrupted only by the constant hum of the fridge, teasing more refreshments to come, and some kids barging in, demanding beer and quickly pacified with a free bottle of Corona each. If that's not pandemic humour, we don't know what is.
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