An Open University course examines the good life in Aki Kaurismäki’s films

A summer course open to all focuses on the visual expression in Aki Kaurismäki’s films.

A dog that follows people around, a man who believes that he is the head of the family, and a woman who, in reality, is in control. Such characters typical of Aki Kaurismäki’s films will be studied in an Open University course this summer.

The five-credit course entitled Suomalainen elokuvantekijä Aki Kaurismäki (the Finnish film maker Aki Kaurismäki) belonging to the Bachelor’s Programme in Art Studies will launch in the Open University on Monday, 6 August 2018.

The course teacher, Jaakko Seppälä, university lecturer in film and television studies,  has researched the role of the camera in Kaurismäki’s films on a three-year grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation. What particularly interests the teacher himself is what the camera shows and what it does not show – an aspect that often intrigues the audience when the ending of a film is left open, as is the case in the auteur’s most recent film The Other Side of Hope.  

Besides drawing from Finnish culture, Aki Kaurismäki’s sources of influence include the history of the world’s cinema, literature and arts.

“The course will introduce students to the aesthetics of Kaurismäki’s films and to the cultural and social connections of his films,” explains Seppälä.

Ambiguous texts

The course will also explore themes such as the Finnishness of films, diversity, minimalism, irony, personal portraits, politics and nostalgia. All these themes are approached from the point of view of the film’s visual expression, in other words, how things are told and shown to the viewer. Seppälä’s approach is formalistic, but alongside the style and narrative, he continuously highlights the cultural debate to which Kaurismäki’s films are connected.

“Kaurismäki’s films are often very controversial texts that all the time pull in different directions: they are both Finnish and international in nature, both moving and funny, and both minimalistic and exaggerating. The focus is on the common man who falls outside the safety nets of society and gets stuck in the wheels of bureaucracy. Nevertheless, he still persistently seeks the good life and, in the end, finds his own community, complete with a dog. He is not after riches, but a family and sense of community.”        

Seppälä finds it interesting that the camera shows us the world of Kaurismäki’s films in two different ways. We see the world in the way the characters see it, but we also see things that they do not.                 

Aki’s world of old and new

From the perspective of the history of cinema, suitable points of comparison to Kaurismäki’s films include poetic realism, film noir and modernist minimalism. Seppälä names such masters of cinema as Robert Bresson, Yasujiro Ozu, Luis Buñuel, Teuvo Tulio and Howard Hawks.

Many people see the world of Aki as a fairy tale world of the past, but Seppälä disagrees. Kaurismäki uses his films to make political statements, especially on refugee policies, as in his most recent films (Le Havre, The Other Side of Hope). He defends the common people and humanism that can be found, for example, in the Salvation Army (The Man Without a Past). The film The Match Factory Girl portrays the dreams and disappointments of common people.

“The open ending gives room for hope,” states Seppälä. In the film (The Other Side of Hope), the stabbed Syrian refugee Khaled sits against a tree by the sea, lights a cigarette and looks out to the sea while Koistinen the dog licks his face.”

The dog carries a meaning – it belongs to the good life.

The five-credit course will begin on Monday, 6 August at the Open University. The course registration period is open. To register, click here  

The course, although designed for students in the Bachelor’s Programme in Art Studies, is open to all. The language of instruction is Finnish.

A book on Aki Kaurismäki and his films, entitled The Films of Aki Kaurismäki and edited by Thomas Austin (University of Sussex), will be released later this year. The writers include several scholars both from the University of Helsinki and from universities abroad.

The Open University is for all

The Open University offers instruction based on the degree programmes of the University of Helsinki. The teaching provides research-based perspectives on the world. The Open University is open to all with no age limits and educational requirements. Lecture series, online courses and examinations are offered all year round in almost all the fields represented at the University of Helsinki.

The curricula of the Open University correspond to the curricula of the degree programmes of the University of Helsinki, and credits completed at the Open University are entered into the Student Register of the University of Helsinki.

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