Vares Retrospective Part VII: Vares – Uhkapelimerkki (2012)

With Vares – Uhkapelimerkki (Vares: Gambling Chip), we finally begin our journey back to the high quality, Finnish crime drama insanity which the first few Vares films taught us to love. Lauri Törhönen, who also directed the two better ones of the last four films we’ve discussed, is back in the saddle for this one, and it shows.

The volume of the personal drama is turned up +100dB, as Jussi Vares falls in love with a troubled woman, only to be accused of her murder as she is found hanging from a bird watching tower. Examining the possible reasons for her death, Vares uncovers a plot involving relatives of the girl, a senior home scam, a cuckolded husband having his bumbling revenge foiled by tragedy, and a set of characters that will just leave you gasping for air. Once again: when the conclusion arrives, most of the original setup will feel like background noise, while your brain is piecing the whole thing together.

All the classic Vares characters are there – police chief Markku Hautavainio (ably played by Ilkka Heiskanen, as always), petty criminal and junkie Kyypakkaus (Jasper Pääkönen) and drinking buddies Alanen (Matti Onnismaa) and Luusalmi (Eppu Salminen). The movie is ripe with traditional Vares humor, but there’s also a very, very Finnish sense of tragedy and darkness.

One thing we have not touched upon in any of our earlier Vares articles is the music of the films. This is a real oversight, but one that is easily addressed: the scores of the Vares films are top notch, and that goes for Uhkapelimerkki as well. There is a basic theme (playing in most trailers, for instance) which is extremely recognizable and suggestive – to compare it to the classic James Bond, Halloween or Jaws themes may be to engage in hyperbole, but is pretty much justified. At the very least, inspiration from all three is quite evident in the ever so catchy “Bambambam, bambambam – bam bam bambambambambam bambambam”.

The best, however, is yet to come. Whatever the qualities of Uhkapelimerkki – and they are many – we will have to wait for the next installment before we are truly back in the saddle. For with Pimeyden tango, the series ascends heights hitherto unknown to all living entities but the Olympian Gods.

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