A teenage boy Simo (Johannes Brotherus) lives with his mother (Anneli Karppinen) and brother Ilkka (Jari Virman) in one of the countless flats of Helsinki’s urban buildings. In the beginning of the film he has a surreal nightmare of a dark and gloomy existence, but when he wakes up nothing really change: his brother is going to the prison, mother is living the illusions of the past she could have, and Simo is just being lost in the reality he is in. A brief encounter with a stranger evokes the unexpected violence in Simo, literally turning his life into a nightmare he was dreaming about.
Pirjo Honkasalo’s new fiction film is the adaptation of a novel by Pirkko Saisio, which was published in 1981. The story about a boy, who is struggling to adapt to a surrounding reality for a certain reason became topical nowadays. Set in a modern landscape of Helsinki, with minimum dialogues and maximum of a cameraman’s virtuosity this black and white film without any doubts looks on-mark for the film festivals and 87th Academy Award, which it was nominated as an entry from Finland for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Concrete Night is the night, when Ilkka will tell his younger naïve brother the story about scorpions that will be only survivors after radioactive fallout. Simo, with his bright eyes wide open to the world (even though this world is not that appealing) believes every word his brother says, and probably just because he has the desire to love and to be loved back, not because he really believes in the apocalypse, at least not so soon, when he just enjoys everyday life around him. The symbols of ‘scorpions’ that are coming to the vanished from humanity planet are the ones that become crucial in the end of the film, when Simo realises that his soul now can be easily reached by the threatening scorpions, because he betrayed the moral values, the human nature he was trying to preserve in himself.
Sometimes, it may look like the film is trying too hard to be aesthetically perfect with all these noir looking streets of Helsinki, where even mud looks appealing to lie in it, countless reflections in the mirrors and water, and overall beautiful Mise en scenes, where instead of rats prowling in search of food at a night, we see a pretty little rabbit. But this can be explained by the director’s background, which made her style to be so accurately adjusted to the direction of filmmaking she picked for herself.
Honakasalo’s previous works were mainly devoted to documentary, where she became known for her poetic style. Her The 3 Rooms of Melancholia (2004) became one of the true gems of Venice festival in 2004, where the director was telling a story about young people whose life became tragically connected with Chechnya War. In that film you can see the awareness of the director towards youth’s problems. In her fiction film she again sees the potential threat world poses to the young generation that was actual both in 1981 when the novel came out, and on the present-day. Violence that Simo experiences is what was seeded in him before he realised it, because of the dissociation of the true values, the impossibility to be raised in a normal family. Who are these scorpions that were going to come? Maybe the real tragedy of the story is that Simo was among them? And if so, then even the army of cute rabbits will not help.