Alcan Highway (2013) ***1/2
Dir. Aleksi Salmenperä
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Finland used to be the suicide capitol of the world, but times have changed. It now ranks as the 19th highest suicide rate in the world out of 100 or so countries. This should be cause for celebration.
Not for Hese.
He's in his forties and feels like a stranger in his own land. His dream is to leave his country behind and embark on a gruelling odyssey of self exploration. It's not enough just to leave, though. As he is Finnish - and I base this assumption solely on the cinema of the Kaurismäki Brothers - he must throw himself into an almost Herculean (some might say Sisyphean) endurance test.
God Bless Finland.
So, what does any bearded, healthy (of mind as well as body) forty-something single male do? Well, what anyone of us would do - he journeys to Alaska, buys a broken down late 40s model truck, affixes a mobile home to it, drives through harsh, but spectacular wilderness and aims his sights on Vancouver Island where he will park his truck and live forever.
Sure. Why not? Life is short, isn't it.
Alcan Highway is a strangely funny and compelling film and, in its own way, it's infused with a similar Buster Keaton-like deadpan quality that the 80s Kaurismäki films so memorably pioneered. It's not enough, for example, to detail the journey - fraught as it is with constant mechanical breakdowns - but director Aleksi Salmenperä captures the actual restoration process in painstaking detail.
At times, one wishes to put a gun to the movie's head and say, "Come on, buddy, move your ass."
Curiously, this is exactly what Hese's collaborators feel like doing. It takes 36 of the 86 minutes of the film's running time to get Hese on the open road. At times this is mildly infuriating, but it's also a canny way to place us in Hese's groove. He's meticulously obsessed with every detail and we're treated to this stubborn single-mindedness with the cinematic equivalent to what actually appears to have occurred.
Hese eventually parts company with the two men who have been helping him realize the inaugural portion of his dream and finally, he's on his own. Along the way and not surprisingly once he hits Canada, there are plenty of friendly, polite people who come to his rescue and/or offer support. When things seem at their bleakest, out pops a friendly Canadian with a helping hand.
The entire journey is so perverse in its single-minded trajectory that it successfully mirrors Hese's character traits - at times, perhaps, to a fault - but it's finally never less than compelling as we're sucked into his dream and root for him all the way. In fact, Kaurismäkiian traits aside, the movie also feels a bit imbued with the sort of existential male angst that drove the collective engines of so many American films of the 70s.
All in all, Alcan Highway (and by extension, Hese himself) is like some crazed Jack Kerouac-like wet dream that presides over Leningrad Cowboys Go American meets Two Lane Blacktop meets Taxi Driver by way of Paul Mazursky.
This is not a bad combination at all.
"Alcan Highway" is playing at the Hot Docs 2013 Film Festival. For showtimes and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.