February 24, 2024


Welcome to Kino Laika: Aki Kaurismäki and Mika Lätti’s cinema in Karkkila, an hour away from Helsinki. A place where love for movies – and dogs – meets ghosts of cinema’s past.

“One time, I had a 35mm copy of the Lumière brothers’ film ‘Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat.’ I lent it to some cinema and it never came back. And now, I have forgotten which cinema it was,” recalls Kaurismäki, who, like Lätti, has been a resident of Karkkila, a modest town of 9,000, for decades now.

“I have lived here for 38 years and I like it a lot, but we never had a cinema here before. To see movies, local people had to travel to the next town or even Helsinki. Not anymore. It’s wonderful to offer them this chance,” he adds.

“Karkkila has been a good place for us both and we wanted to give something back to this town. I had tears in my eyes when someone said: ‘It has been 30 years since I last went to the cinema and now you came along,’” Lätti says.

“I have been repeating the same anecdotes when showing people around and then I realized they tell the same stories bringing over their friends. They are all Laika guides now.”

Located in an old factory hall, Laika welcomes all. Including the workers from the next-door foundry.

“We have a happy hour because of them, cheap beer from 2-4 p.m. on Fridays. They come after their shift, all dusty, and sit next to the ‘culture’ people from Helsinki. Side by side, like in that restaurant in Aki’s movie ‘Drifting Clouds.’ Maybe that’s where this whole idea came from,” says Lätti.

But in Kino Laika, named after the famous Soviet space dog and Kaurismäki’s own photogenic canines, commemorated on one of the walls – with one Laika playing in “The Bohemian Life” and another in “Le Havre” – four-legged visitors can expect special treatment as well.

“[Kaurismäki’s late collaborator] Peter von Bagh had a dream that one day, there will be a cinema called Laika. Juho Kuosmanen’s dog, Humppa-Pulla Mozzarella, has seen many films here and she can stay as long as she doesn’t yell. It’s the most dog-friendly cinema in the world! We have non-alcoholic beer for dogs too, and we serve it in our own Laika bowls,” notes Lätti, with Kaurismäki adding: “In the last 40 years, we’ve always had dogs. Without dogs, your home is empty. In films, they steal the show.”

Unassuming Karkkila is home to other filmmakers too: Mia Halme, Heikki Kujanpää, “Bubble” helmer Aleksi Salmenperä, and Mikko Myllylahti, behind Cannes premiere “The Woodcutter Story.”

“I guess what’s both significant and weird about Kino Laika is the fact that it’s in the middle of the countryside. You would think that arthouse-focused cinema couldn’t survive here, but it’s the exact opposite. Laika is very popular with the outsiders and the locals,” says Myllylahti.

Kino Laika
Courtesy of Moona Mantyvaara

“People still need the true cinema experience. And not just in big cities.”

“For these directors, Laika has become their second, or at least third home. For Aki, it’s easier to be here than in Helsinki. People love him, but they won’t leave him alone,” says Lätti.

Still, Kaurismäki-spotting is a popular game many are willing to play.

“We had these Japanese superfans once and they saw him walk by and pour himself a beer. One of them almost fainted! We just want people to come here,” laughs Lätti.

He never expected to own half of a cinema, he says.

“I was writing books! Then we started a film club ‘Klub Iglu’ with Aki. We did it for 10 years, I think. He knows I am a hard worker. We are different, but with a similar sense of humor. He is strict and I am more flexible. Good cop and bad cop? Maybe a little.”

In a new documentary dedicated to the place, “Cinéma Laika” by Veljko Vidak, Kaurismäki bemoans the loss of his previous cult spot Kino Andorra, which closed in Helsinki in 2019. “Our previous cinema was taken over by I can’t remember which hotel. Some international conglomerate bought the building, we had to evacuate and move the bar elsewhere. Karkkila felt like a good choice for the cinema, because a gym and a library just aren’t enough in the winter.”

“During the pandemic, when theaters around the world were closing their doors, that project sounded like a gesture of hope,” says Vidak.

“During Laika’s construction, cinema became the main and almost exclusive topic of local conversations. The entire town was breathing in the rhythm of its progress. I also discovered that Aki is a skilful building contractor and interior decorator.”

As memorabilia-laden Laika keeps on revealing its secrets, including a small speakeasy – “It’s there for concerts and private screenings, and simply because I still had that bar counter, which I bought in New York in 1989,” says Kaurismäki – its masterminds contemplate the future.

Kino Laika
Courtesy of Moona Mantyvaara

It’s one that includes a mini-festival in November, in collaboration with Kaurismäki’s own Midnight Sun Film Festival, multiple music gigs and maybe even a second screening room. Maybe. But cinema always comes first.

“It’s at the heart of it all,” says Lätti.

“The first film we showed at Kino Laika was Juho Kuosmanen’s ‘Compartment No. 6.’ We also showed ‘No Time to Die’ and ‘Compartment’ beat it. Then Aleksi Salmenperä’s ‘Bubble’ held the record, but Aki has now surpassed it.”

Unsurprisingly, Kaurismäki’s latest film “Fallen Leaves” – recently selected as Finland’s Oscar submission – has been playing to sold-out screenings.

“I can say that the whole period of shooting that film was like a journey to old-fashioned filmmaking, where the love for films was very much present,” says Jussi Vatanen, who stars alongside Alma Pöysti.

“For people who don’t know each other, watching a movie can be a very unifying experience.”



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