Concrete Night (Betoniyo): Toronto Review

Concrete Night Still - H 2013
Courtesy of TIFF
Moody tale of a boy's downfall is a visual knockout.

Finnish vet Pirjo Honkasalo observes a teen's last weekend with a brother about to go to prison.

TORONTO — Stunning to look at and chilling at its core, Concrete Night is a tale of innocence lost in a place where having retained innocence at all is something of a feat. Made by a Finnish director, Pirjo Honkasalo, who has been at work since the Sixties but is little known in America, it could easily be mistaken for the debut of an edgy but emotionally restrained new talent; it will be perfectly at home on arthouse screens, though its minimalist narrative won't satisfy every viewer seduced by its mood.

Johannes Brotherus plays Simo, a fresh-faced teen whose eyes haven't yet been hardened by the tough environment he inhabits: Raised by a single and unreliable-seeming mother (Anneli Karppinen), he and brother Ilkka (Jari Virman) are hiding out in their Helsinki flat, answering the door buzzer only after ground rules -- "If it's her, I'm not here" -- have been established. Ilkka's going to jail on Monday, for unnamed crimes, and Mom wants Simo to keep him company while she goes out on the town.

Simo is eager to please his older brother, a devotion the inmate-to-be rewards with bad advice ("women like to be hit") and dubious theories about the end of humanity's time on earth. (While you may have heard that only cockroaches will survive, Ilkka is sure scorpions will feast on our remains.) Over the course of the evening the two go out for drinks, split up, and have encounters with half-strangers that go badly for both young men.

Peter Flinckenberg's black-and-white photography is as dramatic as the script is restrained, full of creeping shadows and distorted by cracked glass. The film lets us settle into the image, offering a long opening dream sequence (Simo watches a train plunge into the river, then finds himself among jellyfish and seaweed inside it) that sets the movie's tone: When the story finally enters daylight hours, after a night of impulsive bad decisions, Helsinki is revealed to be so thick with hazy steam it might as well be underwater.

Production Companies: Bufo, Plattform Produktion, Magic Hour Films
Cast: Johannes Brotherus, Jari Virman, Juhan Ulfsak, Anneli Karppinen
Director: Pirjo Honkasalo
Screenwriters: Pirjo Honkasalo, Pirkko Saisio
Producers: Misha Jaari, Mark Lwoff
Director of photography: Peter Flinckenberg
Production designer: Pentti Valkeasuo
Music: Karl Frid, Pär Frid
Costume designer: Saija Siekkinen
Editor: Niels Pagh Andersen
No rating, 92 minutes