Following the universal praise for The Man Without a Past in Cannes last year-for many critics, it should have won the Palme d'Or-there is no longer any excuse for not taking Aki Kaurismäki seriously, although he himself has spent his career dismissing himself as a buffoon. A master of the sourly self-deprecating interview (“All my films are lousy”), he spikes his most deeply felt scenes with flip gags that undercut the emotion: at one of the gravest moments in Drifting Clouds, as the unemployed hero's hoped-for job falls flat, he falls flat too, keeling over like a plank in true slapstick style. The clowning seems a defense mechanism on the part of someone who takes film and life seriously-at times, you suspect, painfully so. Kaurismäki's cinephilia, together with his hangdog persona, suggests that he really does make films to stay alive: at the very least, they offer a healthy distraction from his prodigious intake of alcohol and tobacco.

You can read the complete version of this article in the March/April 2003 print edition of Film Comment.