Reviews

Fallen Leaves  (12A) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Aki Kaurismäki, Finland/Germany, 2023, 81 mins, in Finnish with subtitles

Cast:  Alma Pöysti, Jussi Vatanen

Review by Carol Allen

There is something totally endearing about the way Finnish film maker Aki Kaurismäki tells his film stories – their sly, quiet humour, simplicity and empathy with his fellow human beings. 

Fallen Leaves is a classic love story about two lonely people.  Boy meets girl, boy and girl encounter obstacles to their love, boy and girl get together at the end.  But it’s the way he tells ‘em.

Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) are two lonely people, ordinary people, past the first flush of youth.  She lives in a tiny studio flat and works in a supermarket but is sacked for giving waste food, which is about to be destroyed, to a hungry person.  Zero hours contract and no job protection.  He lives in a men’s hostel and is a casual worker on a building site. He too is sacked, in  his case for drinking on the job.  One night in a karaoke bar their eyes meet across a crowded room.  And that’s all.  They don’t speak to each other.  

Their paths cross again in the street.  Again they don’t speak, just wordlessly connect.  Eventually he gets to take her to a movie.  A zombie movie – not the most romantic choice.   He loses her phone number but chance brings them together again.  She invites him to dinner and touchingly has to buy a second plate and cutlery set, because she only has one.  She rejects him because of his drinking and settles for a stray dog instead (lovely dog!).  But you know they have to come together again and the way it happens is unexpected.

It’s all very simply done and totally delightful.   Pöysti and Vatanen are perfect in their roles and there’s a droll contribution from Janne Hyytiäinen as Holappa’s best mate, who tries to wow the ladies with his singing in the karaoke bar but is rejected by Ansa’s friend as being too old-looking – ouch!  

There’s also something endearingly old fashioned about the character’s physical world, which seems to have  opted out of the consumer society.  A radio with a dial and volume knob, a phone that isn’t mobile.  And there’s a dark side to Kaurismäki’s world too.  Ansa turns off he depressing news on the radio about the war in Ukraine and we then remember, Finland borders onto Russia.  We need a happy ending – and don’t worry, we will get it.