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Andrew Nestingen's The Cinema of Aki Kaurismäki is the best, most nuanced, and most intellectually acute work to have been produced on the Finnish filmmaker's work, and it is also the first major study of the director in English. More than a monograph, Nestingen's study provides sensitive new approach to auteurist scholarship in general, opening up new vistas for studies of cinematic direction. Nestingen chooses to study Kaurismäki's authorship from four angles of approach, or four 'stories', as he calls them: Kaurismäki as Auteur, as Bohemian, as Nostalgic, and as Finn. It is Nestingen's contention that the stories that grow up among critics and audiences about particular cinematic authorships are an integral part of the critical apparatus, so that parsing these stories produces significant insight into the significance of the director's films. The stories we tell each other, in other words, about Aki Kaurismäki, or any director, have a direct bearing on how we understand their work. And all of these four stories Nestingen identifies, as stereotyped as smooth as they might seem on the surface, rapidly break up into vexed ambiguities, revealing a variety of tensions and fault-lines. For instance, Kaurismäki the Auteur resides uneasily on the boundary between European art cinema and Hollywood as source of inspiration, while Kaurismäki the Bohemian touts his status as rebel and outsider, even while he depends on the security and support of a wealthy social welfare state for his life and art. Kaurismäki the Nostalgic crafts a world constructed of objects, voices, and images from a lost or imagined past, but as a subjectively felt experience rather than a museum archive. And Kaurismäki the Finn both embodies the stereotypes associated with his small nation and turns them to his own subversive uses, creating a space for a discussion of 'minor' nations in the world of filmmaking, film production, and film distribution. In Nestingen's study, this apparently oddball filmmaker from a little country on the margins of Europe becomes a fascinating test case for a battery of new ways to consider art film authorship.
Nestingen is uniquely positioned to discuss Kaurismäki's authorship in a fully informed and penetrating way: he speaks fluent Finnish and has studied and taught Finnish literature and culture for many years, he is fully familiar with European and American cultural history (with a special emphasis on cinema), he is a sophisticated film scholar conversant with a broad array of theoretical discourses, and he writes in an absolutely lucid and engaging style. He ranges from Garrison Keillor to Theodor Adorno with ease, bringing the reader easily into the complex matrix of his argument without any obfuscating jargon. The Cinema of Aki Kaurismäki is obviously a key addition to scholarship on the Finnish director, offering readers novel insights into Finnish culture along the way. But it is also an indispensable study for those interested in cinematic auteurism in its most recent incarnations.