As a teacher, I often have to deal with teenagers. Whenever I do, I always turn into this annoying advice-producing machine that shoots words of wisdom and tries to save innocent souls. Based on my experience, teenagers can be split into two groups: the ones that pretend not to hear any advice given by adults, and the ones who do listen but always contradict. Now, after watching the Finnish movie Concrete Night (2013) by Pirjo Honkasalo, I know there is also a third group: the teens who do listen and even follow the advice they’re given with a caveat: the advice they take was given by the wrong people.
Imagine a night that changes you forever. The kind of dank and sweaty darkness which hunts for your innocence. The night that turns from tranquil and predictable into a sleep-stealing moster. This is indeed the titular Concrete Night. I wish the English translation used the more definitive word ‘ultimate’ in the title, for it is so final and fatal, that the word ‘concrete’ just doesn’t do it justice. Indeed, if life and death ever made an agreement about the rules of their co-existence, this night would be the deal-breaker.
Meet Simo (Johannes Brotherus), the protagonist. He is just a teenager, but with a not-so-adolescent softness and tenderness (come on, we all know how annoying these little bastards can be). His family situation is far from perfect, but Simo has a warm heart and a selfless spirit. He’s joyful and full of hope, even living in a dump with his unreliable and childish single mother and his trouble-making, shady-looking brother.
But, then, Simo is JUST a teenager. He still struggles with finding his identity and is confused by right-or-wrong dilemmas. Simo feels restless, so he turns to his older brother Ilkka (Jari Virman) for advice. Ilkka is not only about to start his prison sentence, but also has a head full of fun and useful life facts. Simo follows Ilkka during the night and gets some rather obscure and weird advice from him. The older brother says, for example, that, all women like to be hit, and that one day scorpions will rule the world and feast on human remains. Simo might laugh hearing all this pseudo-wisdom, but by the end of the night his innocence will be long gone and the darkness will enter his soft heart.
Simo walks around the city, smoking and drinking, with rain falling on his youthful face. He sees a familiar-looking photographer and follows him into the apartment. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is when Simo poses in front of the camera. He’s supposed to show youth in its purest essence: a vulnerable, sensitive innocence. But Simo is no longer young, and the protographer’s attempts to place a big garland on the boy’s head trigger a violence nobody could ever anticipate.
What makes the film worth seeing isn’t just the fascinating and rather surreal plot with dark city corners and surreal creatures. It’s also the photography. In Concrete Night, light is not just a tool – it becomes one of the main characters. It can be creepy and full of murky shadows, or violent with a sharp and penetrating brightness. It moves the film into a whole new level of visual experience – where you, as a viewer, feel like a part of this disturbing surrealistic plot, and you weep inside that goodness doesn’t conquer the evil and that Simo’s path towards emotional maturity cannot be turned back.
You’ll enjoy this movie if:
- a) you believe cities are alive – they breathe, bite or kiss just like other living creatures.
- b) you enjoy books by William S. Burroughs or Franz Kafka. They create similar images as the ones seen in the movie.
- c) you’re a visual moviegoer. There is no way you won’t appreciate the stark beauty of light and shadow in the cinematography.
Directed by: Pirjo Honkansalo
Written by: Pirjo Honkansalo