"Ariel" begins in snowbound northern Finland where Taisto is one of many workers laid off when a mine closes. He and a fellow miner head silently for a nearby cafe to escape the cold. The friend hands over his keys and tells him to take his car, then goes into the restroom and blows his brains out.

Taisto gets the car, an old white Cadillac convertible, and, after withdrawing his savings, heads south - unable to put up the convertible's top.But he hasn't gone too far when he is mugged by a pair of thieves who run off with all his money, leaving Taisto to seek out day-labor and sleep in a mission home.

Eventually, he meets up with a meter maid - who seems to have half-a-dozen other jobs as well - and they immediately hit it off. In fact, the moment they meet, she throws away her ticket book and cap and climbs into his car. The next morning he meets her young son, who is just as matter-of-fact as she is.

Then Taisto spots one of the thieves who stole his savings. But when he catches the guy and beats him up, the police arrest Taisto and he is sent to prison.

This leads to his plotting an escape, marrying his girlfriend, getting involved in a robbery and, ultimately . . . well, an unexpected ending.

The plot here, however, is really unimportant.

Writer-director Aki Kaurismaki is more interested in style and character than in story and detail. We never learn much about the background of the people in this movie and yet, through the filmmaker's spare sketches and the actors' excellent performances, we seem to know them very well.

These are life's losers - and they know it. But they aren't going to take it lying down, and despite things consistently going wrong for them, they seem determined to keep getting back on their feet.

There are long stretches here without dialogue (which will please those who are not fans of subtitles), and while there is a great deal of action and reaction, it is accompanied by little or no exposition in a traditional sense.

In a way, "Ariel" reminded me of two films that have been shown in the Sundance Film festival in successive years by American filmmaker Hal Hartley - "The Unbelievable Truth" (which is on video) and "Trust," though those films contain a lot more dialogue. "Ariel" contains a similar off-kilter sense of humor, deadpan character interaction and staccato, "Dragnet"-style dialogue.

But "Ariel" is very much an original, a film that was still in my mind for days afterward. Kaurismaki is a filmmaker to watch for in the future.

"Ariel" is not rated but would probably get an R for violence and profanity.