Four weeks, 18 films, and more umlauts than our copy editors will allow!

FIRST GET DRUNK on straight vodka. Then lie in the snow all night. Then go home to find that your wife/girlfriend/beloved has left you; you've lost your dead-end factory job; and you're living on the street, friendless and alone but for your faithful dog. That should put you in the proper mood for the Grand Illusion's monthlong, career-spanning salute to Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurism䫩 (which runs Friday, Jan. 9-Sunday, Feb. 1)

But remember one key point: None of this is tragic. Kaurism䫩's films are somber, deadpan, and often filmed in black-and-white, but they're also funnynot necessarily LOL funny, but the kind of funny that endless Scandinavian nights, furious balalaika music, and long, awkward silences can inspire. The tone is Beckett on dry ice: existential slapstick, non-reactions, slow burns, punch lines seemingly set up in films that came years before. Kaurism䫩 is one of my favorite directors, whose The Man Without a Past just might get a foreign-language Oscar nomination this Jan. 27. But I'd never make the mistake of calling him anything more than marginal. He works on the frozen periphery of human behavior; and, one senses, that's just the way he likes it.

Among the first week's four features, my top pick has to be 1989's The Match Factory Girl (Tuesday, Jan. 13-Thursday, Jan. 15), partly for its untranslated title: Tulitikkutehtaan tytt�>. Have you ever seen so many consonants so gloriously crammed together? The tale of a mouse (Man's wonderful Kati Outinen) who's abused by society and ill-treated by men, Girl is an irresistible revenge melodrama.

However, this series, "Heaven and Helsinki: The Complete Aki Kaurism䫩 Retrospective," is misleading in a couple of senses. It's not complete (where's Man?); and many of these titles are, in fact, available at Scarecrow. Go anywayif you're lucky, maybe it'll even snow.


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