Betoniyö / Finland / 2013 / dir. Pirjo Honkasalo / 96 mins / starring Johannes Brotherus & Jari Virman

Screened as part of the Chicago International Film Festival 2014

Helsinki is a scary place in Concrete Night. Finnish documentarian Pirjo Honkasalo (with his first narrative film in sixteen years) envisions a dark, cold city devoid of the joy or safety an adolescent needs to thrive and introduces us to one such adolescent. Urban claustrophobia pushes into 14-year-old Simo’s (Johannes Brotherus) apartment where he lives with his older brother (Jari Virman) who’s taken to preaching fatalism as he prepares to serve a yearlong sentence for a busted drug deal. Simo copies his brother’s speech and seems to admire him from some former glories. He takes in advice from his brother like a sponge (“You can hit women, but don’t hit men unless you have to”) and looks for magic in a world that’s doing its best to squash it out of him.

Concrete Night doesn’t have much plot to speak of, and it doesn’t fully succeed as a mood piece either, but there are some images of value here. Cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg elected to photograph the film in gloriously high contrast black and white. Hazy interiors look great and offer an arresting aesthetic to the already mournful story. Simo’s visit to a carnival is particularly stunning in black and white, but the early 60’s European look and feel of the film conflicts with its more contemporary concerns. Honkasalo is so passive with his young character, and gives so much weight to the visual aesthetic, that tragedy later in the film is met with little more than an acknowledging “huh” from the audience.

The drama never comes to a full boil, instead offering little more than a solid ode to its influences, as if Antoine Doinel wandered into a Lynchian universe but forgot to bring the script.

 

Finnish with subtitles. 96 minutes.

 

by Taylor Sinople

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