A fourteen-year-old boy in a stifling Helsinki slum takes some unwise life lessons from his soon-to-be-incarcerated older brother, in Finnish master Pirjo Honkasalo’s gorgeously stylized and emotionally devastating work about what we pass on to younger generations, and the ways we do it.
Finnish master Pirjo Honkasalo's feverish, stylized Concrete Night, a glimpse at the imaginative life of a fourteen-year-old boy, is an aesthetic tour de force — an emotionally devastating work about what we pass on to younger generations, and the ways we do it.
The film is set during summer in a stifling Helsinki slum so eerily run down that a sticky sense of revulsion emanates from each location, from the industrial wastelands where young Simo (Johannes Brotherus) hangs out (his swimming hole is a bay beside a huge toxic-looking factory on the outskirts of town) to its various hothouse apartments. Peter Flinckenberg's creepily precise black-and-white cinematography and a muted soundscape create a claustrophobic sense of dread — while stripping the atmosphere of any temporal context. The unmoored setting perfectly reflects Simo's anxiety and confusion about the world around him.
The pivotal issue is the imminent departure of Simo's older brother, Ikko (Jari Virman), the closest thing he has to a father, who's being sent to jail for six months on a minor drug charge. With incarceration looming, Ikko takes the opportunity to leave behind a few noxious pearls of wisdom on the sexes ("You can always hit a woman. They enjoy it, but only hit a man if you have to.") and humanity in general. We, Ikko explains, are the only species foolish enough to live in the future. Simo soaks it all up — and indeed, the film's most painful and touching moments come when he tries to adopt his brother's tough-guy poses.
A bizarrely seamless fusion of Coppola's
Rumble Fish, De Sica's The Children Are
Watching Us, and early David Lynch,
Concrete Night is a cautionary tale about
the attitudes and stances we cavalierly
adopt without realizing the impact they
have on those in our charge. Here, the
children aren't just watching us, they're
listening — and repeating.