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on January 23, 2012
With this box set, the Criterion Collection has brought together for American audiences three 1980s films by Aki Kaurismäki. With a label like "Proletariat Trilogy", one might expect a political message, but the first two films are focused on interpersonal relationships, and only the third is politically overt. This is part of Criterion's Eclipse series, a budget line which lacks commentary or other extras, but the three films are presented in a lovely transfer and have quality English subtitles.

Seeing these three films as a trilogy doesn't really make sense. What they have in common is lower-class characters ignored by the system, 1950s decor and music even though they are ostensibly set in the present day, and some amount of violence and deadpan humour. But in fact, these features are found in nearly all of Kaurismäki's work over the last three decades, and not at all unique to these efforts from 1984, 1986 and 1990 respectively.

VARJOJA PARATIISISSA (Shadows in Paradise) is one of the most idiosyncratic romantic comedies of all time. The painfully shy Nikander (Matti Pellonpää), a garbage man, means the moody Ilona, a supermarket checkout girl. The film tracks their bumbling attempt to establish a lasting relationship: dates that end as soon as they've begun, a romantic getaway where they each retreat to separate hotel rooms, and rare conversations which employ the absolute bare minimum of words. Nikander's best and only friend Melartin (Sakari Kuosmanen), whom the garbage man only recently met through a spell in jail, gives some needed encouragement. VARJOJA PARATIISISSA will touch your heart and make you laugh just as much as it weirds you out.

ARIEL is centered around the trials and tribulations of former miner Taisto Kasurinen (Turo Pajala), who heads for the big city after his mine is shut down. Once he reaches Helsinki, he starts a typically Kaurismakian (and typically Finnish) love affair with Irmeli (Susanna Haavisto), but stable employment proves elusive. Eventually Taisto winds up in jail, and his escape with cellmate Mikkonen (Matti Pellonpää) drives the remainder of the film. This film is zany, but a curious kind of zany that only Kaurismäki could have come up with, and has a bittersweet ending.

TULITIKKUTEHTAAN TYTTÖ (The Match Factory Girl), something of an arthouse triumph in the US, is very different from the earlier two films. Its protagonist Iris (Kati Outinen), a taciturn 20-something who still lives with, and financially supports, her layabout parents (Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari). Iris has no real social life to speak of, being ignored by co-workers and, at her nightly excursions to dance halls, by men. After meeting wealthy businessman Aarne (Vesa Vierikko), she thinks she has found happiness, but is cruelly abandoned by him and then her parents. Though she doesn't visibly snap, the pressures take their toll, and she gets her revenge on those who have done her wrong...

As TULITIKKUTEHTAAN TYTTÖ progresses, radio and television in the background report the news of Chinese government forces suppressing the protest in Tiananmen Square. That overt political focus is something rather unusual for Kaurismäki. He has usually included some criticism of state bureaucracy in his films, but here the film is entirely a metaphor for what might happen if the people are held down too hard and too long. This is my least favourite of the three films, as it is almost invariably bleak and mainly lacks the funny moments of the Finnish director's other work.

Three films are not the best of auteur cinema that I've seen, in that at their best they are "merely" entertaining instead of life-changing, but nonetheless I'd recommend them to a wide audience. The first two films are sure to appeal to just about anyone, especially through the humour that Matti Pellonpää brings and Kati Outinen's quirky face. Plus, those first two films depict Finland's inhabitants in a pretty realistic fashion and might offer some insight into the mentality of this nation of moody binge drinkers. And though I didn't enjoy it as much, even TULITIKKUTEHTAAN TYTTÖ seems to have its audience.
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on January 7, 2009
DVD quality for all three is fine, and again very reasonably priced. Widescreen, 16 x9, rich colour.

No culture is more taciturn than that of the Finns.

These films appeal to fans of Mamet scripts that are slowed down, and to fans of Jim Jarmush films.
Jarmush much admires Kaurismaki, and the last episode of his movie "Night on Earth" is a tribute to the director.

If you liked "The Man With No Name" you will like all three of these movies, although for me they are much better, as they are earlier and more simplistic films where "less is more" is well demonstrated.
You probably will dislike these films if you disliked the Oscar nominated "The Man With No Name".

In all of his movies, the story and actors move slow, yet beautifully, in their workers' "low" blue collar world.
Excellent use of color keeps the environment from being visually depressing, and subtle and consistent humor gives hope and uplifts these romances...
yes..all three are romances.
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on October 5, 2011
I have been an ardent fan of Kaurismaki, since I saw THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST.
He tersely depicts frugal pursuit of happiness, often resulting in miserable failure, as is usually the case in our real life, in simple story-telling with few words (lines). I am one of Japanese who love minimalism. I have read that Kaurismaki is interested in Japanese culture. You may notice Sushi is served in the train in THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST with a Japanese song in the background. I have also seen LIGHTS IN THE DUSK and DRIFTING CLOUDS. I wanted to see more of his works and bought this collection (SHADOWS IN PARADISE, ARIEL and THE MATCH FACTORY GIRL)
So far, I rank THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST as his best and ARIEL, his second. I later found out that this is the Vol. 1 of his collection and Vol. 2 and 3 are available only in PAL version. With a universal-type DVD player for NTSC/PAL in all region codes, now in my hands, I ordered from Amazon UK Vol.2 (DRIFTING CLOUDS, TAKE CARE OF YOUR SCARF, TATJANA and JUHA) and Vol.3 (CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, HAMLET GOES BUSINESS and LA VIE DE BOHEME) in PAL version, to be delivered in about two weeks. Then, I may be able to tell which is the best among his 11 works. - over-
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on February 16, 2016
Loved it - all three.
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on August 27, 2017
I am part Finn and it was SO true to life! I could just see my Dad, Grandmother, Great Uncles and Aunties in the film, Ariel. The whole gamut of "life slaps me down again and again", while the poor guy keeps digging a hole for himself... Precious! I am going to purchase the three disc set so I can have lots of guffaws whenever I need a pick me up. The black humor is fantastic!
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on February 3, 2011
Kaurismaki was a big influence on Jim Jarmusch, and one can see why. The Proletariat Trilogy is one of the best things I've seen in years: Shadows in Paradise is the perfect love story, Ariel is a continuation of this, and the Match Factory Girl is a splendid story where everyone gets their just due(sort of), maybe in the realm of Carrie. Match Factory was a great note to end the series on.

Aki Kaurismäki's Proletariat Trilogy (Shadows in Paradise / Ariel / The Match Factory Girl)For me, the Trilogy is perfect filmmaking--sad, humorous, ironic, dead pan, sometimes with a happy ending. I don't want to go into any detail, one can read the description for that. The Trilogy is emotion-driven, which is the type of film that I gravitate towards, serious but w/an underlying sense of humour. If you like Jarmusch, John Lurie, Wayne Wang, maybe even Hal Hartley... you will LOVE this. There are "on and off" box-sets, and this one is on on on. 5 stars, no kidding.
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on February 27, 2012
I have two of these films in the Finnish releases which I was surprised to find have much better picture quality. The stories are classic Kaurismäki and show Finland in the bad old days of the seventies with astonishing clarity. Erinomainen! No Finn will use two words if one will do and Kaurismäki is the master of this characteristic. Beautiful and touching insights into a time and culture far removed from most of the rest of us. Only the Russians might identify with some of this but of course they have been linked for many centuries. Great film making but a pity the discs are not a bit better.
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on September 28, 2008
Here's yet another prize package from Criterion's Eclipse line -- these wonderful films by Aki Kaurismäki deserve the widest possible audience, and this set will undoubtedly garner the Finnish director a brand new gaggle of fans. Although his influence can be seen in the work of many American independent filmmakers, nobody does it quite like Kaurismäki -- his style's classical, laconic, and, somehow, often deeply moving. (When the po-faced heroine of SHADOWS IN PARADISE finally breaks into a smile at the film's end, the effect is dazzling.) The humor here (and there's plenty of laugh-out-loud moments) is never forced or artifical but rooted in character, wonderfully eccentric, and always compassionate. Kaurismäki knows his terrain, literally and figuratively, extremely well, and he honors these working-class lives by his treatment of them. Mention must be made of the wonderful soundtracks, too -- rock, tango and blues never sounded better than in these Finnish versions. If you've ever cracked a smile at Jim Jarmusch, grab this box. An absolute delight.
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on September 18, 2012
Why I didn't discover these films sooner, will remain a mystery to me, but I'm glad I finally got to see them! This collection of films from 'auteur' Aki Kaurismaki, which has been given the Criterion treatment, are a true revelation. The 3 films in question, are part of a trilogy of stories representing the Finn outlook and national-character.

The first film "Varjoja paratiisissa" ("Shadows in Paradise") from 1986, is the story of a sanitation-worker: 'Nikander' (Matti Pellonpaa), who is trying very hard to break out of his shell and make a new life for himself. After the death of his co-worker and friend (Esko Nikkari), he meets strong-willed 'Ilona' (Kati Outinen), where a shaky romance soon ensues. The film was very funny in places, with some poignant shots of the desolate landscape that symbolized the stoical and laconic personality of the characters. Excellent!

The second feature "Ariel" from 1988. Is a tragi-comedy in the classical sense, but presented with an air that must be almost-exclusively Finnish. A coal miner 'Taisto Kasurinen' (Turo Pajala), leaves behind the countryside (after the suicide of his father), in the convertible (the top is broken) that his father left him. And heads to the capital Helsinki, looking for work and adventure. This one is too good to give away! The low-key handling and ironic approach to matter-of-facts of life like: death, poverty, love and romance, etc. was just too funny and very original. Another excellent offering from Kaurismaki.

The third and final film "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö" ("The Match Factory Girl") from 1990. This one, once again featured sad-faced Kati Outinen as 'Iris'. She is a love-starved girl in a dead-end job, and unselfishly supports her unaffectionate mom and stepdad. Until one day, after she meets a guy that leaves her pregnant and abandoned, she's had enough! The acting by our heroine Kati Outinen was very convincing, we felt her pain. This was the most somber piece of the three, but not the lesser for it. Really great acting, the filmmaker is a true auteur!

Everyone of these films offers a slice of working-class life (very much like: Mike Leigh or Ken Loach). But they must really epitomize the particular character of the Finnish people. They are an ancient people, who are in all likelihood the key to discovering humankind's much older age. (Some will even say their taciturn ways, is an indication of a dormant clairvoyance!) Criterion Eclipse Series has done an excellent job on restoring these films and on the English subtitles. Do not pass-up on this collection, well worth it. NTSC, Finnish language (English subtitles) NR 215 mins.

love and Peace,
Carlos Romero
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on July 20, 2008
I must say I've been crossing my fingers, lighting candles and doing voodoo mojo ceremonies in the hope that when these titles are finally released Stateside that they would be in Criterion Collection editions. And here they come! Aki Kaurismäki's three best films in one box! Oh, joy! Even though I spent an obscene amount of US dollars to obtain these and the rest of his oeuvre as standard (Region 2) Finnish imports, I will get this as well. Nothing beats a lovingly curated and assembled Criterion box set!
But is it too much to hope for the rest?
I'll light some candles and do a jig (or better yet, a tango) and see what happens...
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