Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana (1994, Aki Kaurismäki)

I spent much of Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana waiting for the character, played by Kati Outinen, to forget her scarf because I thought the title was Don’t Forget Your Scarf, Tatjana. I knew the film only ran sixty-two minutes and so assumed there’d be some scarf-forgetting. Oops. Is there scarf-forgetting? No spoilers. But it definitely focused my attention on Outinen’s scarf and potential forgetfulness, which isn’t really her character at all.

Tatjana is a road movie, with Outinen and her friend Kirsi Tykkyläinen traveling the Finnish landscape, teamed up with locals Matti Pellonpää and Mato Valtonen. Outinen is Estonian, Tykkyläinen is Russian; Outinen speaks a little Finnish, Tykkyläinen none, so they take what they can get with traveling companions. While the film opens on Outinen and Tykkyläinen—and the scarf—the action immediately moves to Valtonen.

Valtonen is a seamster, existing on stolen puffs from his mother’s cigars and an endless supply of coffee. When he runs out of coffee, he promptly locks his mom (Irma Junnilainen) in the closet so he can steal from her purse—Valtonen, the actor, is forty-ish in Scarf; it’s unclear if his character is supposed to be much older or younger, but he’s clearly a grown ass man stealing from his mother’s purse, not to mention locking her in a closet. He’s expecting a package of coffee (or thinks his mom’s getting one), but instead unwraps a twelve-volt coffee maker. And, as one does, decides to try it out in his car on a test drive.

See, Valtonen’s car is in fellow child grown over Pellonpää’s shop. Once they get the bill settled and Pellonpää dons his rocker leather jacket, they hit the road. They have a fairly nondescript test drive, with Valtonen guzzling coffee and Pellonpää drinking bottle after bottle of vodka—until they meet Outinen and Tykkyläinen. The women need a ride to the harbor to catch a boat and it’s not like the men have anything better to do.

So begins their quietly devastating journey, where the men never quite understand the women—both Valtonen and Pellonpää seem fundamentally incapable of expressing themselves in a way anyone else can understand; they aren’t even friends with each other, just fellow stalled travelers—and the women soften to their absurd, slightly tragic ferrymen.

Tatjana’s got its fair share of absurdities starting out—at no point does it seem like mom Junnilainen is in any actual danger in her closet prison—so when the road trip takes multiple full days, it never seems unlikely. Director Kaurismäki doesn’t have time in an hour to wait for the audience to catch up, either you’re keeping pace or you’re left behind, and the quartet finds themselves in these mundane but exquisitely peculiar situations together.

It all wraps up beautifully, with Kaurismäki getting to amp up the absurd in such a way to make it all the more grounded.

Gorgeous, deep, lush black and white photography from Timo Salminen. Great direction (and editing) from Kaurismäki. The acting from the four leads is good. Tykkyläinen has the showiest part—and it’s still not very showy—and is a lot of fun.

Tatjana’s a great use of an hour.

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