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Interview with Aki Kaurismäki at 53rd TIFF
Aki Kaurismäki is best known for his oeuvre of films including: ‘Leningrad Cowboys Go America’ (1989), ‘The Man Without A Past’ (2002), which ran in competition at Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar in 2002, and his most recent film ‘Le Havre' (2011), which ran in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Recently, Aki Kaurismäki was honored for his life achievement at the 53rd Thessaloniki Film Festival. On the 6th November, I sat outside by the Thessaloniki quays with Aki over cigarettes and the smoke of passing ships as we discussed politics, films and chicken farms. Here is what Aki had to say.
ME: How do you feel about the American Presidential elections, which are taking place as we speak?
AKI: Those are today, that’s right. So, he future of the world will be decided today.
ME: Yep, I think much of the world is as tense as we Americans are.
AKI: Obama is no saint but it’s money against humans.
ME: Yeah, it’s scary. But the idea of having a Mormon president I find more so.
AKI: Well, it’s scary without being Mormon. Idiots are always scary.
ME: Exactly! LOL. So, you started your filmmaking career being a critic and then going into distribution and then later filmmaking. You had a long path into becoming one of the world’s most beloved auteur directors.
AKI: Well, I wasn’t really a critic. I made my living by writing critiques for universal magazine. So, I wasn’t really a critic. I started as an actor. But it was a long and lonely road. In America now I’m dead.
ME: You make pretty passionate political statements with your films and at times have refused to appear at various US events in protest of American foreign policy (once the Oscars and another time the New York Film Festival)…
AKI: Well, there would be no sense if you don’t. I mean, if you don’t have anything to say then you should forget about cinema because you could as well have gone to Hollywood and really die.
ME: Well, I get that. I’ve been an expat for eight years now.
AKI: But really I’ve always liked the New York Film Festival. It was always my favorite and I hated not to go, but when I read the sentence in the news that the Paris American embassy needed 90 days to check if Kiarostami was a terrorist or not… His films are 90 minutes so it takes that long.
ME: And we have more terrorists in American who are American than foreign so it’s ridiculous really.
AKI: It’s a dangerous path. As Jack London said, what happened to the only real democracy in the world, which happened in the United States between 1909-1914. What happened? I don’t know… We start to think that people come from Mars or something these days. There’s an old French saying that we share from the 30’s from an old crime story ‘Cherchez la Femme’… The question is to always check from where the money came and that’s what happened. Money goes… Goldman Sachs.
ME: How do you feel about where Europe is right now with the current economic crises in relation to the world?
AKI: Let’s go back to the United States for a minute. It’s Goldman Sachs banking management. Each made a fake statement of Greece. They fixed a big budget so the Greek have to pay for them.
ME: It’s economic terrorism in a way.
AKI: Yeah. Follow the money. It was much more nice to say ‘Cherchez la Femme’ than ‘Follow the Money’. It’s more boring but it’s the same thing. People try to buy everything and solve everything with money.
ME: Can you talk about 'Le Havre' and the unlikely love story/buddy story that develops between the old man and the young immigrant boy?
AKI: I don’t really want to talk about anything but… This was my last film but it’s already three years ago or something so it’s already forgotten. Now I’m following Buster Keaton who after he was kicked out of cinema when the sound films came, he started to be a chicken farmer.
ME: So you want to leave cinema?
AKI: I’ve left it already. I’m just checking. But I’m building a chicken house now. Not to eat them but to watch them.
ME: Is this a solar energy investment thing or…
AKI: No, I’m just a bit disappointed with people so I trust in chickens.
ME: Right. I get it. Animals are the best.
AKI: Animals have personality.
ME: I love animals as well. You don’t have to play games with them.
AKI: Dogs never betrayed me. Many people did.
ME: Do you think you may go into writing books later?
[Major loud truck passes by]
AKI: Well, I’ve been a teacher. It’s really a problem with me because how can I teach anybody since I don’t know myself.
ME: It’s quite a paradox from where I’m sitting since you’ve become such an icon in the film industry and yet you say you are ready to walk away.
AKI: I walked away 25 years ago, so I’ve been living in Portugal since the 80’s.
ME: Is Portugal home to you?
AKI: Nowadays more and more. Yes.
ME: How do you feel about being honored here at the 53rd Thessaloniki Film Festival?
AKI: I feel good, really. I used the opportunity to visit Thessaloniki because I’ve never been here and I spent my days walking around people’s areas and watched people do what they do. And I’m totally fed up with this kind of stuff. I will never be on any red carpet anymore. It was a mistake already. I did it as a producer but the human in me hated it all the time. This might be the last festival so it’s time to fade away.
ME: Well, it’s an honor for me to meet with you and speak to you.
AKI: Films will stay a hope. I don’t.
ME: Okay… You’re a legend. Now I want to cry though…
Thank you Aki for everything you have given to the world and for your genuine humility, passion and humanity. Whatever you do now- chicken farm, film school, more films or nothing- you will never be forgotten and your life work will speak to generations of future filmmakers.
Interview by Vanessa McMahon
The Bulletin Board
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