Essential Kaurismäki: Selected by David Stratton

SFF is delighted to welcome back former director David Stratton to the 2018 Festival, to present a program of essential films directed by Aki Kaurismäki.  

Essential Kaurismäki: Selected by David Stratton is a retrospective program of 10 films, featuring nine specially imported 35mm prints. It showcases key work by one of the most distinctive and off-beat directors in cinema, including Leningrad Cowboys Go America, Le Havre, The Man Without a Past and The Match Factory Girl. 

“Kaurismäki is widely recognised as one of Finland’s greatest film directors of all time,” said Festival Director Nashen Moodley. “His latest film, The Other Side of Hope was one of the highlights of Sydney Film Festival 2017, so we are very excited to present this essential line-up of his 10 most iconic films. This retrospective is crucial viewing for film fans.”

Purchase single tickets by clicking on the films below. 

Purchase a special discounted package of all ten films for $130 (+booking fee) here.


Aki Kaurismäki is a master of the deadpan. Finland’s most celebrated filmmaker was born in the small town of Orimattila, north-east of Helsinki, in 1957 and as a young man discovered the films of Bresson, Ozu and Melville. He formed a production company, Villealfa (after Godard’s Alphaville) with his older brother, Mika, and directed his first film, Crime and Punishment, in 1983. He is the complete auteur, producing, directing, scripting and usually editing his films. 

Kaurismäki’s studies of Finland’s battlers unfold without resorting to histrionics or overt emotion. Often using the same actors, he has created a world in which ‘ordinary’ people overcome all the odds stacked against them to achieve modest successes. The dialogue in his films is laconic and laced with stoic humour; he is committed to the use of plain language. There isn’t a streak of sentiment, despite the presence of a loveable dog in almost every movie.  

Apart from canines, Kaurismäki’s love for music, and especially jazz and rock, comes across clearly in his work. There’s always time for a musical interlude, and his invention of a fictional rock ’n’ roll band for the 1989 road movie Leningrad Cowboys Go America proved to be so popular that the Cowboys stayed together as a group after the movie.

Kaurismäki resisted the shift from film to digital for as long as possible, claiming it was ‘a devil’s invention’.  

Kaurismäki has created a body of work inhabited by some of the most modest yet endearing characters to be found anywhere in contemporary cinema. This retrospective will be a revelation to those unfamiliar with the work of an exceptional director.  


David Stratton, Retrospective Programmer

David Stratton headshot

Film critic, lecturer and author David Stratton AM is a former director of Sydney Film Festival and former host of ABC TV’s At the Movies. He is a recipient of the Raymond Longford Award and was named Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He has served on the juries in Venice and Berlin and as President of the FIPRESCI (International Film Critics) jury in Cannes.

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Crime and Punishment

Kaurismäki’s first film is an intensely gripping updating of Dostoevsky’s novel, relocated in contemporary Helsinki.

Shadows in Paradise

Kaurismäki’s third feature is a terse, tightly structured romantic drama involving two lonely people – a garbage collector and a supermarket cashier.


The misadventures of a mineworker from Finland’s frozen north who heads south when the mine closes; Kaurismäki’s first film released in Australia (in 1991) is the epitome of ‘supercool’.

Leningrad Cowboys Go America

Kaurismäki’s cheerfully slapdash, cartoon-like road movie involves a band from ‘somewhere in the Tundra’ that winds up playing all over the U.S.

The Match Factory Girl

A factory worker is exploited not only by her employers but also by her family and friends – until she stands up for herself.

La Vie de Boheme

The adventures of three down and outs in Paris, this French-language delight is an adaptation of the book on which the opera, La Boheme, is based.

Drifting Clouds

In the quintessential Kaurismäki film, He (Kari Väänänen) drives a tram while She (Kati Outinen) manages a restaurant. Both of them lose their jobs and have to start again.

The Man Without a Past

All Kaurismäki’s themes combine in this delightfully optimistic, serenely graceful, film about a man with amnesia who has to start again.

Lights in the Dusk

A man, two women, a robbery and a dog provide the elements of this typically terse and appealing romance; a story of crime, punishment and devotion.

Le Havre

André Wilms plays Marcel Marx, a former writer who shines shoes for a living and cares for his beloved wife and a young refugee from Africa.