Rings and Things. Aki Kaurismäki, Authorship, and the Cinema of Nostalgia

2/2010

Andrew Nestingen

Commentators agree that Aki Kaurismäki’s cinema involves nostalgia. This article suggests that irony complicates that nostalgia, and in so doing prods us to see nostalgia as part of a larger critique of cinema and cinematic authorship.

Although Kaurismäki’s films are set in an indistinct present, their staging includes settings, costuming, and props that call to mind earlier eras. Musical choices and cinematography also hark back to earlier times. Nostalgia would seem to be a key feature of Kaurismäki’s authorship, if we understand the latter in terms of the politique des auteurs popularized by the French New Wave critics and filmmakers. Yet at the same time, the films excesses and exaggeration also ironize nostalgia. This irony is similar to the attitude we see in Kaurismäki’s denigrating remarks about his filmmaking career. What should we make of the irony, and as a result the nostalgia and authorship?

By studying the films and the Kaurismäki-authorship discourse, this article argues that ironic instability is crucial to an understanding of Kaurismäki’s nostalgia and authorship. The irony in Kaurismäki’s nostalgia and authorship have led critics and scholars to see different kinds of nostalgia in the films. The article sketches out a few of these. Together, these multiple nostalgias make evident a critique of the institution of cinema and cinematic authorship, which the article suggests is at the heart of Kaurismäki’s filmmaking. This view of Kaurismäki emphasizes the relevance of his films’ cultural politics to European and World cinema, rather than seeing him as oriented to the national past.