Concrete Night (Finland: Betoniyö), 2013.
Directed by Pirjo Honkasalo.
Starring Johannes Brotherus, Jari Virman, Anneli Karppinen, Alex Anton and Iida Kuningas.
A fourteen-year-old boy in a stifling Helsinki slum takes some unwise life lessons from his soon-to-be-incarcerated older brother.
Ostensibly about 14-year-old Simo (Johannes Brotherus) and his quest for self-discovery in the drudgery of his Helsinki home, as well as Simo’s relationship with his soon-to-be jailbird brother Ilkka (Jari Virman), Pirjo Honkasalo’s Concrete Night aims for hard-hitting. But as the drama makes a dull thud rather than the impact one should expect from such subject matter, Honkasalo’s feature is disappointingly unremarkable.
The decision to shoot Concrete Night in starkly contrasted black and white is a mysterious one, only lending the film an unreality to offset the grittiness the story strives for. It leaves the film resembling the comic book styling of Sin City, when it seems to want to be a slice of grim realism. Visuals should complement the movie, but not become it; which is to say Concrete Night is big on style but low on much substance.
The leads are like ciphers, with nary a sense of the brotherly bond that apparently binds them together. Brotherus and Virman don’t really make the grade as cinematic actors, either, though admittedly they have little to work with, handed half-sketched figures as characters. Brotherus is the uninteresting star of his own coming of age story, but he doesn’t even have the charismatic best friend or the boo-hiss bully to keep things interesting.
The film does contain some elements of intrigue. Simo’s flights of fantasy, exploited not nearly enough, give us a mesmerising opening sequence. And a scene in which Simo imagines dropping a bomb from a Ferris wheel onto the crowds below is even more startling, hinting at the ugliness of his mind, of his isolation from and growing hatred of others. Homoerotic undertones suggest a more confused mind still, as Simo looks on his possibly gay neighbour with disgust, calling him “that poof,” but later accepting an invitation up to the man’s flat.
Still, on the whole, the film is left half-baked. Relationships are underdeveloped, plotlines are left to dangle. Aside from the occasional dramatic inertness, the overly-stylised visual approach cripples Concrete Night from the outset. It looks like a director trying to show everyone what he’s capable of, without considering what’s best for the film. A social-realist document is rendered more easily palatable by the crispness of Honkasalo’s methods, leaving it less affecting, more looking like a moody perfume ad.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Brogan Morris – Lover of film, writer of words, pretentious beyond belief. Thinks Scorsese and Kubrick are the kings of cinema, but PT Anderson and David Fincher are the young princes. Follow Brogan on Twitter if you can take shameless self-promotion.