Gracious Night


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Gracious Night
"The situation suffers from its confined setting and, for much of the time, a lack of dramatic tension." | Photo: Courtesy of POFF

Mika Kaurismäki's latest film is a largely improvised affair set against the backdrop of Covid pandemic, which sees three men chew the fat over the course of May Day night.

Each of the men - Heikki (Pertti Sveholm), Risto (Kari Heiskanen) and Juhani (Timo Torikka) - is introduced to us earlier in the day, an accomplished bit of, largely, visual storytelling which acts as a welcome open contrast to the bulk of the film which leans heavily on dialogue. Risto, is a doctor, who has just had bad news about a patient, Juhani, a man who has received a disturbing phone call and Juhani is busily taking matters into his own hands regarding the future of his bar, which is in Covid lockdown - in one of several sly and dry nods to the virus, a bottle of Corona advert flashes above the door.

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While Heikki contemplates his next move over food and a glass of good wine, the door opens and Risto walks in. A regular, after initial protestations, Heikki pours him a glass and the two settle down to chat about life's sleights when suddenly a third man, Juhani, comes in, begging to recharge his phone. An unknown quality to the other pair, there is some friction between them, but it settles into a casual camaraderie until one man's secret threatens to upset the balance of the evening.

Some directors might make that the climax of the film, but for Kaurismäki it is just the jumping off point for this ruminative consideration of accidents of fate, the cruelty of death and the difficulty of relationships that forms the bulk of the men's conversation as the hours roll by. The actors, who had worked on their character's back stories individually, before coming together to shoot the film chronologically, all bring depth to their personalities, while keeping the ensuing talkathon watchable. The conversation is also surprisingly focused for something so heavily improvised, with some of the observations - particularly concerning the nature and notions of freedom achieving a decent amount of philosophical crunch.

The situation suffers, however, from its confined setting and, for much of the time, a lack of dramatic tension. Once the initial secret is revealed, other minor revelations pale in comparison - and the lack of reference to the virus itself is also notable, as anyone who has had a chat with anyone over the course of 2020 knows, it is a constant minor topic of conversation at the very least, and to virtually exclude it feels manufactured. A group of May Day revellers inject some much needed energy at one point and there is a late-stage interlude involving another character but it's tough for Kaurismäki to sustain the momentum and the film, despite having its moments, feels stretched at 90 minutes.

Reviewed on: 25 Nov 2020
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Three men bond on a night in a bar during lockdown.

Director: Mika Kaurismäki

Writer: Mika Kaurismäki, Sami Keski-Vähälä

Starring: Kari Heiskanem, Pertti Sveholm, Timo Torikka, Anu Sinisalo

Year: 2020

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Finland


Black Nights 2020

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