I Hired a Contract KillerAki Kaurismaki (Finland/UK 1990)Jean-Pierre Leaud; Margi Clarke
Viewed: 15 July 2010 Star and Shadow Cinema; ticket price £4
retrocrit: sound as essence
Aki Kaurismaki (AK) understands music as a portal into other dimensions.I think that his work as a film maker consistently testifies to his ability to use the music as a track that creates mood and state of mind independently of the picture.This is particularly the case with I hired a Contract Killer.Without its use of music I Hired a Contract Killer (IHCK) would be a film that was rather less than the sum of its parts.
The parts are in themselves finely tuned in a sense of being fluid stylistic statements in relation to film composition.AK’s London is a decontextualised zone comprising any-space-whatevers, inhabited by a supporting caste ofgeezers and wizzened old gits.The main characters are affectively cool and non emotively engaged in the material which AK has fashioned for cognitive clarity rather than manipulation.The characters lines comprise a series of distancing alienated offbeat observations.The statements by protagonists Boulanger and Margaret are pared back, announiatory, declamatory: statements about situation rather than discourse.As in Film Noir and Godard’s takes on film noir, the dialogue is grounded in bleak sociopathic humour and the absurd, and the action follows filmic logic rather than narrative rules.
AK’s characters in IHCK work within a set of frames both interior and exterior in which colour provides the affective key note. The city, as it is shot and framed, and the interiors, lobbies rooms bars nondescript entrances and exits, all have an ochre key note.The film look is dominated by the muted colours of autumn, the keynotes of a melancholia that pervades the film and is complimented by AK’splacement of his camera.The ‘still’ shot dominates the film, trapping the audience and the characters in the atmospherics of the sparse mis-en-scenes, giving them and their ochre colorisation, an inescapable dynamic presence in the structure of the movie.
The problem with IHCK is that it feels like a series of TV sketches, skilfully stitched together.The film seems to be structured as a sequence of discrete scenes.These sequences can almost stand alone each comprising a thesis and an antithesis, an event that is developed within its own logic to its pay-off.The jewellery store robbery is a case in point. Boulanger interrupts the robbery and after a series of gags, ends up the prime suspect.There is a sort of self contained element in this episodic structure which recalls TV comedies such as the Young Ones and Monty Python that perhaps AK viewed at a impressionable time in his life.With the film viewed as a series of linked events a feeling of repetition intrudes and the logic becomes mechanical, each section of IHCK like a contrived device to move the film on until it comes to the point AK decides is the last device and the movie ends.Yet the music and the way it is used by AK changes the dynamic; without the music it is difficult to see what AK is trying to achieve.
The music changes everything.From the first sounds of Billie Holliday through to the series of songs by Joe Strummer and the blues numbers, I understood that this is a film about loneliness.About the experience of being inescapably alone in the world; about the world being an inescapably lonely place.Billie’s voice, in Time on My Hands exudes the note of personal desolation, a tone that is sustained by Joe Strummer’s plaintive performing of his songs culminating in the number he performs to camera in the pub.His performance here is an extraordinary intensifer of mood: a lament for all that is lost .The only logic for the incorporation of the whole song into the sequence is as an statement of the films emotional colour, blue, and of its alienated existential philosophy.
Without the music, the ideas supporting IHCK are at risk of being flooded out by the mechaninics of film making however fluid they may be.It was this route that Godard, as thinker auteur, determined never to travel.With his sensitive use of music IHCK is a film that travels.Butitit is a problem for AK, as evidenced in his next movie “ La Vie de Boheme.” in which he tries to pull of the same trick with a cod rendering of La Boheme.With this film AK ends up with a less convincing pot pourri of mechanical scquences, showing that to be a film maker is not enough.It’s about ideas.