Vares Retrospective Part III: Vares – Pahan Suudelma (2011)

With the third Vares film – Pahan Suudelma (The Kiss of Evil) – the series enters a new phase. It was filmed back to back with the three following Vares movies, which we will take a closer look at in the fourth, fifth and six installments of this retrospect, but that really hasn’t had any negative effect on the production values. Rather, this is a quite slick affair, which brings us to its problems right away.

Most of what was said about the first Vares film and its sequel V2 goes right out the window here. Gone is the ultra Finnish stylings of Juha Veijonen and his alcoholic author friend. Both the character of Jussi Vares and Juhani Luusalmi remain, along with a host of other recurring figures, but much like the movie they are now somewhat more cosmopolitan in outlook and tone. They are obviously Finnish, but could (almost) appear in a Hollywood flick. Most of the Tarantino/Richie influences are also gone: this and the next few movies have an overall more serious tone. To sum up: this is most definitely a “Nordic crime film”, closer to Swedish affairs like Wallander and Beck.

Now, the above statements are rather damning. You don’t like Nordic crime film, unless you’re German (in which case Scandinavian crime fiction, in whatever form, is the second coming) or American (in which case you are seen as a grave artistic monolith if you’ve ever seen a movie with subtitles), and neither do I, most of the time. A number of points save Pahan Suudelma, though, and while it is far from the best entry in the Vares series, it is eminently watchable.

First of all, the characters and the actors who play them grow on you. While they are written as international stereotypes (“the defrocked priest”, “the down-on-his-luck-but-handsome-devil” etc), they are given shape by some pretty strong acting. Antti Reini’s interpretation of Jussi Vares might give the initial impression of a Helsinki fancy boy drinking to be cool, but as the character grows, he pulls it off beautifully. After a few films, I might add, he really is the one and only Jussi Vares. His, as well as his friends’, drinking becomes ever more convincing. He even manages to often look like he has bad breath of the hangover variety, while his attractiveness to certain types of ladies actually seem believable.

Secondly, the comedic tendencies which flow through all Vares films to some degree are still there. The over-the-top yet awesome villains that haunted the first two movies are, for better or for worse, toned down or gone, but there is still a lot to chuckle at.

Third, the plot is pretty great. From the very basic premise of a murdered girl’s family hiring private eye Vares to investigate the case, there grows a veritable forest of twists, turns and surprises.

It should also be mentioned that there is none of the heavy handed political pandering so prevalent in especially Swedish crime dramas, which often comes across as first-year student essays on the problems of honor killings among Muslim immigrants or spousal abuse in rich households. While there are certainly allusions to the problems of Finnish society (the alcoholism, not least), we are mercifully spared the “racist skinhead gang”. There are social issues, prejudice and violence in the Vares movies, but it’s there to tell the story, not show that the writers took a few weeks of Outrage 101 at Berkeley.

Finally, if you’re into competently but simply produced movies, with a clear style and no-BS filming, then this is clearly superior to the first two Vares films. It’s a “safer” film, which may be off putting to some, but I reckon many people would actually prefer this more even style to the sometimes raving madness of Yksityisetsivä and V2.

When this reviewer first saw Pahan Suudelma, I found it less interesting and entertaining than the first two, and that’s an opinion which stands. By no means is it a bad movie, though, and it does mark a new beginning in the Vares cinematic saga. If you’re not as intently hostile against generic Nordic crime dramas as yours truly, you may even find this one to be the best one in the series. So far, that is.

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