“Nobody acts in my films. They don’t wave their hands like windmills. They are controlled. Even if they don’t know it”
either totally drunk or totally sober. There is nowhere in between.”
In the early days, Kaurismäki was extremely prolific. He could, without straining his drinking arm, deliver two decent films a year. In recent times, he appears to have slowed down a bit. He admits that he used to tease Jim Jarmusch, the great American film-maker, for spending too long between projects.
“He was Mr Slow. Now he’s catching me up,” he says. It has been six years since his last full-length film, Lights in the Dusk. He has spent the time in Portugal with his “very patient” wife of 28 years. He picks mushrooms. He reads. He watches the occasional silent film. So what finally persuaded him to launch into Le Havre? It sounds as if he has a fairly pleasant life.
“Yes, I live there because Portugal is about as far as you can get from Helsinki – except
maybe Ireland. Ha, ha!” he says. “Well, if I hadn’t stopped my car I would have ended up filming in Belgium. I was driving from the south looking for a location. I went through Spain and Portugal. I got to Le Havre and I just stopped. I had no more gasoline.”
You never quite know when Kaurismäki is taking you for a ride. His sense of irony has evolved to such a point that conversation takes on the quality of an elusive, absurdist drama. Ask him if it’s true that he intends to retire after making 20 films – Le Havre is his 18th – and you get a response that swings both ways without toppling over into a firm answer. Maybe the boozing is all an act too. Perhaps he spends his evenings drinking tea and serving as a lay preacher.
No, that doesn’t really work. He’s just too darn Finnish. One wonders will he ever return home. No nation should be deprived of its geniuses.
“I prefer places where people talk,” he says. “When they are drunk in Finland they talk too much. But during the day they don’t talk enough. Everyone looks like they’re in Night of the Living Dead.”
There’s no danger of Kaurismäki being mistaken for a zombie. It’s 3.30pm and he’s already impressively festive. Good for him.
“It would have been nice to share a drink with you! But I’ll have one for you. Okay?”
That’s fine by me.