Lights derives scant excitement from its melodramatic plot, which satisfies a dismal, ineluctable formula with stultifying efficiency. Nor is it enlivened by the airless performances, which have been shorn of gesture, deprived of expressive language, and flattened against an overall flatness of affect. No, this stunted little parable generates a glimmer of interest, in its oppressive way, from the tragicomic struggle of any expressive impulse to assert itself against the tyrannical mannerisms of Aki Kaurismäki. In other words, Finland's reigning poet of deadpan minimalism has found no reason to alter the style of laconic, low-rent, beatnik miserablism he perfected in the 1990s. Delectation of cinematography aside—the picture carefully realizes the visual idea of its title—Kaurismäki has given us no special reason to revisit his coy, claustrophobic universe. Completing a trilogy on "loneliness" that includes Drifting Clouds (1996) and The Man Without a Past (2002), Lights maneuvers a taciturn security guard (Janne Hyytiäinen) into a cruel geometry of betrayal arranged by a Russian moll (Maria Järvenhelmi). Sadder yet, Kaurismäki has invited all of his pets (vintage cars, thrift-store production design, retro rock bands, glum proletariat eateries), all of which ought to be put down.
Järvenhelmi and Hyytiäinen in an icy romance.
Runs at SIFF Cinema, Fri., Aug. 3–Thurs., Aug. 9. Not rated. 80 minutes.