I’ll admit I had no idea what this movie was about when I queued it. I just went by the fact that it had a famous director, Aki Kaurismaki and a ridiculous title. Turns out I wasn’t going to be disappointed. Leningrad Cowboys Go America is one helluva hoot. The story starts somewhere in mother Russia or some random Eastern European locale where the Leningrad Cowboys are auditioning for a music producer. He turns them down on account of the fact that their folky pop wasn’t commercial enough, but sends them to his cousin in America, where they’ll “take any crap”. So guided by the selfish svengali of a manager they have, the band heads to the US & A.

It’s essentially a road movie that has a bit of a political slant to it. Given that it came out in ’89, you realise much of the film satirizes the Cold War and the stereotypes of life under Communism and Democracy. But don’t bother about that nonsense. The film is funny in and of itself. From the first moment I set eyes on the Cowboys, I knew this was gonna be good. Must be something to do with the uber exaggerated Elvis pomps they wear on their heads or maybe their foot (as in the measurement) long pointy shoes.

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Upon arriving in Nueva York, they audition again only to learn that the musical style the people like in America is something called rock n roll. The brilliant, if ruthless, manager realises they need to adapt to survive and asks the band “Have you ever heard of rock and roll?” “No”, the band reply. “Study this book.” is the sagely advice from the manager. From there, they head South towards Mexico where another cousin has a wedding lined up, adapting their music along the way, from rock and roll to country to mariachi.

They get into plenty of hijinks and I’ve forgotten to mention that they also brought along their frozen stiff bassist (he died practicing outdoors the night before their big audition back home) along for the trip. They strap him to the top of a car they buy from Jim Jarmusch in a cameo role and the manager even uses the coffin to store Budweisers. They also get into jail at one point where they get out by doing a blue man group impersonation. Released presumably because they were too annoying, as evidenced by the fact that the warden was wearing ear muffs when he let them go, asking them never to come back.

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Throughout all this, the band is almost completely deadpan, which adds to the hilarity because how is it possible that grown men wearing fake wigs and silly shoes and zoot suits could keep straight faces when they have to reminisce about former loves, like tractors in the old farm or sing songs about the times when they were farmers on a collective.

I am very much inclined, at this point, to check out Aki Kaurismaki a whole lot more. Even if I know that this film is a departure from his usual thing. Or maybe I should start with the sequel to this film, also by Kaurismaki, Leningrad Cowboys meet Moses. Or maybe the band itself.

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