Plot: Nikander (Matti Pellonpaa) leads a simple life and works as a garbageman, but he longs for a better life and tries to improve his lot. He takes English classes in an effort to open more doors and when his coworker tells him of a plan to start a new waste removal business, Nikander is thrilled with the news. But as quickly as the news emboldens his sagging spirits, his coworker has a heart attack and dies, right next to the garbage truck he tended most of his life. He does feel a slight glimmer of hope however, as he meets a grocery store cashier named Ilona (Kati Outinen) and the two strike up an awkward, but endearing bond. The relationship isn’t a typical romance, but each finds a solace in the other, even as they continue to cope with the lesser elements of life. But will Nikander and Ilona be able to leave their regrets and malcontent behind and form a life together, or does it even matter in the first place?
Entertainment Value: This is an odd one, especially for a quasi-romance, but I loved Shadows in Paradise and found it to be a downbeat, but sharply comic slice of life with some memorable characters. The film’s focus is on those characters, so this is more of an experience than a traditional narrative, but it works quite well, keeping you reeled in the entire time. The pace is deliberate to be kind, but the slower moments aren’t filler, they help us observe the characters in their lives, which tend to be very grounded, even tedious in nature. I know some will dislike this kind of naturalistic approach, but I found it to be refreshing and even in those slower moments, the mood and characters are more than enough to hold interest. I also appreciate that Aki Kaurismaki is able to bring an almost magical texture to these ordinary lives, without sanitizing or overlooking their inherent issues as people. Nikander and Ilona aren’t idealized soulmates who finally connect, their relationship is a journey and one that takes some odd turns, but it all feels so natural and almost hypnotic at times. I really liked this one and I could easily revisit it fairly often, so for those who look for offbeat, unique cinema, give Shadows in Paradise a chance.
I knew I would likely appreciate Kati Outinen’s work in this movie, as I loved her performance in Kaurismaki’s The Match Factory Girl. She has a similar role here, as a quiet, discontented soul who finds a path to a little change in life, but this role has a little more active presence involved. I do miss the super dark edge of her character in that film, but it is more than balanced seeing Outinen given more room to work and she delivers. She is able to convey such an interesting vibe, especially in exchanges with her costars, it is a unique brand of energy and it captivates my attention. Her interactions with everyone in Shadows in Paradise are fun to watch, but her scenes with Matti Pellonpaa are the highlights, without question. He turns in a pitch perfect turn of his own, a great blend of sympathetic underdog and awkward, unpredictable weirdo, just what the role calls for. Pellonpaa has some of the movie’s funniest and most memorable moments, including any time he tries to puff out his chest, only to find himself on the wrong end of his bravado. The two are a pleasure to watch in Shadows in Paradise, two excellent performances from gifted, unique talents.