Back in form after his disappointing “Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses,” Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki has come up with a typically wayward road movie whose content is almost too slight to support the abbreviated 62-minute running time, but which still should charm the director’s fans. Non-fans will be unimpressed, and business will be spotty.
In “Tatiana,” the helmer junks plot almost completely in favor of a series of observations on the difficulty of forming personal relationships when you’re not very articulate. At the same time, he continues his dissection of the grass-roots Finnish character.
Cigar-chomping, caffeine-addicted Valto works at home for his Mum, but when he discovers she’s run out of coffee, he locks her in a cupboard, steals money from her purse and splits.
He teams up with his chum Reino, a greasy-haired auto mechanic and self-styled rocker, and the two misfits set out on what appears to be an aimless drive through the Finnish landscape, with Reino swigging vodka and Valto drinking coffee from a portable dispenser.
Along the way they run into two women, skinny Tatiana, an Estonian trying to get home to Tallinn, and chubby Klaudia, a Russian from Alma Ata. Klaudia doesn’t speak Finnish, but Tatiana knows enough to ask for a ride.
The joke here is that these macho Finnish guys don’t know what to say to the friendly, and obviously available, women. Hardly a word passes between them throughout the journey, even though they spend a night in a hotel, with Klaudia sharing a room with Valto and Tatiana with Reino (nothing happens, though, because the men simply fall asleep).
And yet Kaurismaki and his fine actors convey a wealth of emotion simmering just below the surface, mainly through body language, furtive glances and occasional smiles. It doesn’t sound like charming material, but somehow it is, thanks to the director’s perverse sense of humor.
Kaurismaki regular Matti Pellonpaa is a grungy delight as the stupid Reino, who finds himself attracted to Tatiana, and Mato Valtonen’s Valto is an almost equally amusing character beneath his uncommunicative exterior. As Klaudia, Finnish Film Foundation exec Kirsi Tykkylainen plays her second role in a Kaurismaki film (she was the highlight of “Moses”), and brings warmth and depth to a character who just can’t connect because she doesn’t speak the language. Kati Outinen’s expressive face does wonders with the character of Tatiana.
It’s a pity that Kaurismaki didn’t spend a bit more time on the screenplay and give his characters a little more to do, thus coming up with a film of more acceptable commercial length. And the beautiful black-and-white photography, by Timo Salminen, is a challenge for ancillary markets. Still, “Tatiana” deserves to find an audience, because beneath the offhand, casual approach is a moving and funny film about relationships.