With Lights in the Dusk, Aki Kaurismaki completes his "Loser Trilogy" that started with Drifting Clouds (1996) and The Man Without a Past (2002). Yet even those unfamiliar with the earlier films will appreciate this minor gem about an innocent man who becomes the stooge in a heist plot.

In this go-round, the "loser" is Koistinen (Janne Hyytiainen), a bored and lonely night watchman at a jewelry store. One night Koistinen becomes entranced by a blonde beauty (Maria Jarvenhelmi) he meets at a café. She introduces herself as Mirja and they begin to date. But soon we learn that Mirja is working for her lover, Lindstrom (Ilkka Koivula), a wealthy thief who is plotting to use his girlfriend to find out from Koistinen the secret code of the jewelry store entrance.

After Lindstrom and his men make their "hit," Koistinen is implicated, but he nobly refuses to turn in the unrepentant Mirja. Thus, Koistinen is the only one to take the rap and, after a brief trial, he serves time in a prison. Once on parole, Koistinen has trouble finding work as an ex-con. When he sees Mirja and Lindstrom together, he tries to kill his mobster-nemesis, but the plan backfires violently. In the end, Koistinen attains a bit of hope following his bleak experience.

Like his American counterpart Jim Jarmusch--who appeared in brother Mika Kaurismaki's intriguing documentary, Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made--Kaurismaki makes his slight, simple narrative amusing by directing his actors to be strictly stoic: Whether the action is uneventful (Koistinen washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen) or over-the-top melodramatic (his attempting to kill Lindstrom with a knife), there is barely an expression on anyone's face. This makes femme fatale Mirja's "seduction" of Koistinen even more ludicrously funny than it would have been if it had been overplayed. (Jarvenhelmi stays completely pokerfaced in every scene.)

Yet, somehow, Lights in the Dusk is strangely moving--a meditation on loneliness and ennui in a heartless, modern, industrial society. (The visions of Helsinki at night are quite stunning, from the overhead shots of the city to the Hopperesque images of stores and shop windows.) It's not Antonioni-arty, but the film adds up to much more than the plot summary would suggest--or a mere Vertigo spoof. The only possible miscalculation is the choice of Hyytiainen in the main role--he is excellent as the lovestruck loser, but just too good-looking for the part.
Those seeking something novel and offbeat will find it in Lights in the Dusk.