A bite-size confection with a bittersweet core, this small-scale silent displays Finnish master Aki Kaurismäki’s strengths and does away with his chief weakness—a heavy-handedness with the whimsy. Kaurismäki’s use of black-and-white photography and title cards punches up the fairy-tale aspect of this ruthlessly simple narrative (based on a novel by Juhani Aho) without veering into the high expressionism to which modern silents tend. Crippled farmer Juha (Sakari Kuosmanen) and his young wife, Marja (Kati Outinen), grow and sell cabbages, and all is right, albeit relatively dull, with their world. Into this bucolic stasis come a sports car, a loud vest, and a flask, all owned by smooth criminal Shemeikka (André Wilms). Shemeikka puts wolfish moves on the susceptible Marja, who is too easily convinced that she deserves big-city glamour and risk rather than the comfort and kindness of the cabbage farm. She runs off with the newcomer, only to find—and cause—pain and betrayal. The setting is contemporary—guns and taxis and hotels and highways figure as prominently as tractors and farmers’ wives in cheap headscarves—but the story is elemental, and Kaurismäki teases it out with admirable simplicity, his style and tone always slightly naive; it’s the characters’ childlike susceptibilities that he admires, their foolishness that saves them from his condescension. It takes supreme self-awareness to turn a cinematic cliché back into an absurdity, and Karusmäki succeeds even when he shows Marja’s internal transformation by having her strip a cabbage head of its tough outer leaves and contemplate the tender thing inside, the size and presumed purity of her own head. Despite Kaurismäki’s mastery of such small moments, the director’s morality is always big-picture: Even his vision of redemption is infinitely sad. —Arion Berger