IT'S often hard to say whether Aki Kaurismaki's films are comedies or tragedies. They can be sad enough to draw an audience's tears, and even violence may erupt at a climactic moment. Yet quiet smiles or outright laughs may be equally present in the same story, and sometimes a single moment blends bleakness and humor into a combination that seems absolutely seamless.
This mastery of conflicting moods is one of the skills that have helped Mr. Kaurismaki emerge as Finland's most internationally hailed filmmaker - rivaled only by his brother, Mika Kaurismaki, whose movies have not gathered a following quite so wide even though they're often more ambitious and operate on a somewhat larger scale.
Mika's last major film, "Zombie and the Ghost Train," has not found a commercial release in the United States despite its success at the New York Film Festival last year.
By contrast, two pictures from Aki are generating lots of discussion this season: "The Match Factory Girl," which opens theatrically this month, and "La Vie de Boheme," a hit at the latest edition of the New York filmfest.
Filmed in expressive black-and-white tones, "La Vie de Boheme" is based on the same Henri Murger novel that inspired "La Boheme," the exquisite Puccini opera. The plot centers on Rudolfo, an artist who dreams of beauty and romance while living in drabness and poverty, and his beloved Mimi, whose fragile charm is matched by a wistful nature and a frail constitution.