The House of Branching Love -- Film Review

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Mika Kaurismaki, pretty much universally known as the less talented of the Finnish Kaurismaki brothers, is back in Toronto with an offbeat, often funny battle of the sexes comedy that is perfectly pleasant to watch. It's good, but not a home run either, so chances of distribution in major territories, where Mika is much less well known than his brother Aki, are not robust, but not miniscule either.

The film seems organized according to a three-part musical structure. The first movement sets up the impending divorce of the feckless Juhani, who's an underpaid family counselor, and his harpy wife Tuula, a highly successful businesswoman. The wounding dialogue here is often quite funny and adds some welcome new insults to the genre.

The second section is more Shakespearean in feel, as an increasingly larger cast of characters provides more and more comic complications when they all end up at Juhani and Tuula's house. (The source of this part -- and in fact the clear inspiration for the entire film -- is made easier to recognize by Juhani's friend, the would-be studly Pekka, who constantly quotes the Bard.)

By the final movement, things have become naturally more serious, as they are wont to do in classic Shakespearean comedy, and here Kaurismaki is unafraid to spell out some basic human truths about loneliness and the haunting power of the past.

Most of the plot, and the humor, revolve around the competition between Juhani and Tuula to one-up each other with a pretend boyfriend or girlfriend to make the other look or feel bad. Five or six sub-plots involving gangsters, women on the run, two horny policemen, aging parents who've betrayed their children and so on, add to the comedy, though some are harder to follow than others. In this kind of movie, of course, complete comprehension is not really required or even particularly useful.

Some of the humor is pretty obvious and more than a bit derivative, such as the nosy neighbor who goes to ridiculous lengths to see what his apparently licentious neighbors are up to. Many of the laughs, however, come from the kind of deadpan absurdity that, to the joy of film lovers everywhere, seems to run in the Kaurismaki family. As a host of family secrets gradually comes to light, the film's mood becomes more somber and more serious and we begin to understand why everyone seems so emotionally unstable, and thus, occasionally at least, so hilarious.

Production Company: Marianna Films Oy
Cast: Hannu-Pekka Bjorkman, Elina Knihtila, Annti Reini, Tommi Eronen, Irina Bjorklund, Anna Easteden
Director: Mika Kaurismaki
Screenwriter: Mika Kaurismaki, Sami Keski-Vahala, based on the novel by Petri Karra
Producer: Mika Kaurismaki
Director of photography: Rauno Ronkainen
Production designer: Pete Neuvonen
Music: Jarmo Saari
Editor: Jukka Nykanen
Sales: Wide Management
No rating, 102 minutes
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