Dir. Pirjo Honkasalo
The sins of our fathers and mothers and their fathers and mothers before them have a way of swimming about the viscous fluids of creation as aberrant DNA and if the sins of society offer no escape, the cycles of aimlessness, desperation, pain, poverty, and violence keep repeating themselves ad infinitum.
Such is life in Helsinki.
Such is the portrait of despair painted with murkily exquisite monochrome by master Finnish filmmaker Pirjo Honkasalo, who last delivered The 3 Rooms of Melancholia, a devastatingly moving 2004 documentary portrait of the effects of the Chechen War upon the children of both Chechnya and Russia. In that documentary, she brought an extremely formal beauty to the proceedings - stunning compositions, gorgeous lighting (though most likely practical lights) and finally an overall sensitivity that indelibly captured the despair of the world by aestheticising it to such a degree that we could not help be plunged into the "3 Rooms" in a way that taking our eyes away from the frame was a near impossibility.
The more traditional documentary approach is a simpler, direct cinema style, but Honkasalo bravely and quite brilliantly made us feel her hand every stretch of the way. Within the context of presenting a drama, Concrete Night seems to allow for even greater stylized approaches to the material - never, in recent memory (save perhaps for that of Ulrich Seidl), has ugliness and despair seemed so beautiful.
His only hope lies in choosing one of three roads - one of the imagination, another of self-destruction and yet another representing the snuffing out of anything even remotely threatening. So often, though, his expression betrays a void.
We, however, sit watching the film in utter dread - hoping that of all the characters in it, Simo does make the right choice. Life, of course, is never that simple. Then again, neither are great films. Yes, they all begin with a relatively simple framework to allow solid support for the necessary layering, but in the case of Concrete Night, nothing is as it seems. Thankfully, filmmakers like Honkasalo still exist to remind all of us that cinema, as a reflection of life, should never offer an easy way out. Sometimes, for viewers to hold on to what is dear, we need to stumble out of the cinema infused with the horror, the unalterable truth that cycles of violence, poverty and abuse are seldom broken - that in order to break free requires more than personal choice, it demands societal intervention.
And that, is often easier said, than done.
"Concrete Night" is part of the TIFF Masters series at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF #2013). Visit the TIFF website HERE.