BORN IN 1957, Aki Kaurismäki has become one of theworld’s most prolific and most impudent moviemakers.At first, he stood far apart from the Finnish establish-ment in that his parodies and farces lampooned theconventions of his society. Nonetheless, as he becameknown and respected on the international film scene,Kaurismäki quickly came to be regarded as the leadingtalent of his country’s miniscule motion-picture in-dustry. Certainly, his success has helped to educatecineastes to the fact that Scandinavian films do notcome only from Sweden and Norway.Kaurismäki began his career in the early 1980s andestablished himself internationally by 1990 or so. Hisfilms are linked in that they are straightforward, serio-comic studies infused with a unique sense of the ridicu-lous and even the absurd. His characters are removedfrom the mainstream, in some cases to the point ofbeing isolated and completely alone; occasionally theytake to the road, roaming across frozen landscapes inwhich they remain eternal outsiders. Yet their feelingsof alienation or despondency rarely become the princi-pal force at work in the filmic action. Instead, even asKaurismäki elicits poignancy in the charting of hischaracters’ sad lives, he gives special emphasis to a kindof humor that evokes the simultaneous strangeness andfamiliarity of their situations.A number of Kaurismäki’s protagonists are de-jected blue-collar types driven to desperate acts andoutrageous behavior by a repressive society. Such is thecase in Ariel (1988), a comic–existential road movieabout a mineworker who loses his job and sets out onan odyssey across Finland. This picture offers an exam-ple of the manner in which Kaurismäki drolly observesthe life of a character whose existence is outwardly de-pressing. Similarly,The Match Factory Girl(1990) is asharply drawn black comedy about a dreary, oppressedyoung woman. Her job is tiresome, her life monoto-nous, and then she becomes involved with a man whois destined to drop her. He expects her to squirm backinto her shell, but her response—indeed, her revenge—is anything but meek and predictable.Retaliation or revenge is also a prominent theme inthe first film Kaurismäki directed by himself (after co-directing The Saimma Gesture with his brother,Mika),Crime and Punishment (1983). A reworking ofthe Dostoyevsky novel, this picture is set in Helsinki inthe 1980s, and the hero, Rahikaainen, murders a pow-erful businessman who was responsible for the hit-and-run death of Rahikaainen’s fiancée. By far,Crime andPunishmentis Kaurismäki’s most somber film; at theother end of the emotional spectrum is I Hired a Con-tract Killer (1990), in which his estranged protagonist isoutlandishly depicted. Kaurismäki tells the story hereof a nebbish with nothing to live for, yet who haplesslyfails to kill himself. He then hires a professional to dothe job but changes his mind after unexpectedly fallingin love, at which point he must hurriedly attempt tocancel the contract on his life.