After graduating in media studies from the University of Tampere Aki Kaurismäki started his career as a co-screenwriter and actor in films made by his older brother, Mika Kaurismäki. Together they founded the production company Villealfa Filmproductions and later the Midnight Sun FF. His debut as an independent director was Crime and Punishment (1983), an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's novel set in modern Helsinki. He gained worldwide attention with Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989). In 1989, he emigrated with his wife to Portugal, saying "in all of Helsinki there is no place left where I could place my camera". Kaurismäki's film Ariel (1988) was entered into the Moscow IFF where it won the Prix FIPRESCI. Kaurismäki's most acclaimed film has been The Man Without a Past, which won the Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 2002 Cannes IFF and was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 2003. However, Kaurismäki refused to attend the Oscar ceremony, asserting that he did not feel like partying in a country that was in a state of war. Kaurismäki's next film Lights in the Dusk was also chosen to be Finland's nominee for best foreign-language film, but Kaurismäki again boycotted the awards and refused the nomination, in what he claimed was a protest against US President George W. Bush's foreign policy. In 2002, Kaurismäki also boycotted the 40th New York FF in a show of solidarity with the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, who was not given a US visa in time for the festival. Kaurismäki's 2017 film The Other Side of Hope won the Silver Bear for Best Director award at the Berlin IFF. At the same festival he also announced that it would be his last film as a director.
The Saimaa Gesture (doc., 1981), Unworthy (1982), Crime and Punishment (1983) Calamari Union (1985), Shadows in Paradise (1986), Rocky VI (short, 1986), L. A. Woman (short, 1987), Hamlet Goes Business (1987), Thru the Wire (short, 1987), Rich Little Bitch (short, 1987), Ariel (1988), Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989), Dirty Hands (TV, 1989), The Match Factory Girl (1990), I Hired a Contract Killer (1991), La Vie de Bohème (1991), Those Were the Days (short, 1991), These Boots (short, 1992), Total Balalaika Show (doc., 1993), Tatjana Tatjana, Take Care of Your Scarf (1994), Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (1994), Always Be Human (1996), Drifting Clouds (1996), Employment Agent (short, 1996), Juha (1999), The Man without a Past (2002), Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet (2002, segmentDogs Have No Hell), Visions of Europe (segment Bico, 2004) Lights in the Dusk (2006), To Each His Own Cinema (segment The Foundry, 2007), Le Havre (2011), The Pieksämäki Railway Station Blues (doc., 2012), The Other Side of Hope (2017), O Tasqueiro (short, 2018), Fallen Leaves (2023).