Concrete Night


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Concrete Night
"A powerful piece of work, beautifully depicted."

Simo (Johannes Brotherus) is 14 years old, just at that stage in life when he needs to start taking on responsibility - the more so because his father is absent, his big brother Ilkka (Jari Virman) is about to go into prison and his mother has long struggled to cope. But he's also at a stage in life where he doesn't have much sense of identity. In the maze of concrete where he lies, a long uncared-for Helsinki housing estate, those above can look down on everything as if in a panopticon, but those below are constantly lost. Caught in this maze, unable to see very far, Simo has no idea of his direction. He simply borrows ideas and ways of being from others to try to pass himself off as worldly. His world is full of bad advice.

The night before Ilkka's incarceration, their mother is worried sick, afraid her older boy may harm himself because of what lies ahead. She asks Simo to look after him and the two spend an evening together, just beginning to bond as adults for the first time. But when Ilkka has to go, entangled in adult problems that reveal his capacity for cruelty, it's Simo who emerges as the vulnerable one, swept along by ideas his brother might not have meant for him to take so seriously. Blundering through the night, he grows increasingly uneasy until events culminate in a shocking act of violence that will change everything.

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Adapted from Pirkko Saisio's 1980 cult novel, which we see sitting on a shelf at one point, this film is billed as having been updated to the present, but really it could be set at any time in the past century. The city looms large, with dramatic shifts as we travel between the impoverished housing estate and the bright city centre that appears in tourist brochures. Even the ugly parts are stunningly shot in lucid black and white (though Simo dreams in colour). Everything of import happens at night; in the daytime, civilisation reasserts itself and all the night's intensity comes to seem small and helpless, exposed. It is this daylight world that is harder for the boy to come to terms with, this world of consequence and self-reflection. Others make the shift easily, like chameleons; Simo watches wide-eyed, innocent and guilty.

A powerful piece of work, beautifully depicted, this is all the more remarkable as so much of it rests on the shoulders of young Brotherus, in his debut feature role. There isn't a single misjudged note among the performances and Virman's charisma is well balanced by Brotherus' engaging naivety, but viewers' sympathies will be tested nonetheless. With its simple story and complex underlying themes, this is an intelligently delivered film deserving of a wide audience.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2014
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A youngster receives bad advice from his soon-to-be-jailed older brother.

Director: Pirjo Honkasalo

Writer: Pirjo Honkasalo, Pirkko Saisio

Starring: Alex Anton, Johannes Brotherus, Teijo Eloranta, Anneli Karppinen, Iida Kuningas, Rea Mauranen, Hannele Nieminen, Mauno Paajanen, Pauli Poranen, Juhan Ulfsak, Jari Virman

Year: 2013

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Finland, Sweden, Denmark

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