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  Leningrad Cowboys Go America It's Only Rock 'n' Roll But They Like ItBuy this film here.
Year: 1989
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Stars: Matti Pellonpää, Kari Väänänen, Sakke Järvenpää, Heiki Keskinen, Pimme Korhonen, Sakari Kuosmanen, Puka Oinonen, Silu Sepälä, Mauri Sumén, Mato Valtonen, Pekka Virtanen, Nicky Tesco, Jim Jarmusch, Jatimatic Ohlstrom, Richard Boes, Duke Robillard
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Weirdo
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The Leningrad Cowboys, a rural Siberian band, may be one man down (he has been frozen while out rehearsing all night), but that does not prevent them performing for a svengali from the city in the hopes they will secure themselves a record deal or at least some gigs. Alas, the svengali claims their tunes are "shit" and the performance looks to have been a disaster, but there is one ray of hope when he gives the Cowboys' manager Vladimir (Matti Pellonpää) a contact in New York to get in touch with, after all, Americans will listen to anything...

Writer and director Aki Kaurismäki garnered something close to an international hit with this comedy, and if nothing else it raised his profile, here bringing new meaning to the word "deadpan". Taken at face value, Leningrad Cowboys Go America could easily be viewed as pretty inscrutable, but there's a method in its madness, showing how the pop culture of the United States is infectious and invigorating, with its influence even reaching the freezing landscapes of Finland.

The film doubles as a musical, and every so often the band get out their instruments and play a song, which is not quite as "shit" as some of the other characters seem to think. They are undeniably versatile, bringing that distinctive sound of tuba and accordion to some traditional American genres with a "Will this do?" charm, and much of the humour stems from the culture clash they encounter when they reach foreign shores. When they do get to New York City, with the body of their frozen comrade in a coffin as well, the contact tells them that he cannot use them.

On the other hand, he can give them a wedding that needs a band to go to - in Mexico, making this a Finnish take on the most American of styles, the road movie, although unlike the films of Wim Wenders Kaurismäki and his team didn't stay in Europe to make it, as if acknowledging their debt to the homeland of such cinematic adventures. Along the way they meet Jim Jarmusch as a used car dealer who sells them a posh car in which to make their journey, although no matter how many bars they stop at to play for extra cash, they never seem to get enough to eat.

This is because Vladimir is keeping all the money for himself so he can buy beer and snacks - all the Cowboys get is a bag of onions to eat. There is a political commentary here, yet it's lightly handled and need not trouble the audience who are simply here for the tunes and gags. So you can see Vladimir as a big boss exploiting his workers, then deposed in an uprising, but for many it's better to watch this for how many quiff-based laughs they can conjure up (the band wear some outlandish hairdos, and that's not mentioning their shoes). Even if the humour is specific to the Finnish point of view, it, like the title characters, travel better than you might expect, and if it's not raucously funny, then it is highly amusing in its way. The Cowboys returned in a sequel and a concert movie.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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