Movie: FALLEN LEAVES
Rating: NR, Finnish with English subtitles
Release Date: November 22, 2023
Jeanne: After a plethora of overly long films in 2023 especially, writer/director’s latest offering, FALLEN LEAVES, is a welcome departure with a runtime of 81 minutes. Honestly, it’s like a breath of fresh air --- plus, it’s an excellent movie.
Set in the industrialized area of Helsinki, Kaurismäki’s story involves two lonely people, Ansa (), and Holappa (), going about their daily lives. After Ansa loses her job at a supermarket for taking home expired grocery items, she and her friend (Alina Tomnikov) meet for a drink at a karaoke bar. Holappa and his co-worker, Huotari (Janne Hyytiäinen), are also there and while Huotari is singing, Ansa and Holappa notice each other.
Too shy to pursue one another, it isn’t until another chance encounter that Holappa invites Ansa for coffee --- and then a movie. She gives Holappa her number promising to reveal her name when he calls. To his horror, Holappa immediately loses the slip of paper with her cell number. After a series of missteps --- and Holappa’s alcohol problem --- the relationship appears to be doomed. To console herself, Ansa adopts a stray dog who becomes her constant companion.
FALLEN LEAVES is not as dire as it sounds. Kaurismäki has infused his sparsely worded script with a significant amount of Finnish dry humor. And his two stars, Pöysti and Vatanen are more than capable at conveying their feelings without much dialogue. Their lives may be considered dreary by some, but both of these characters try their best to overcome their fears and shortcomings.
A running subplot in FALLEN LEAVES is the war in Ukraine. With proximity of Finland so close to Russia, residents realize the great peril they face if the Ukrainians fail in their efforts to defeat the Russian army. The news regarding the war is constantly in the background weighing on their daily lives.
Pöysti and Vatanen are a great match. Ansa may not have much, but she also will not be pushed around. When she confronts Holappa about his drinking and he leaves her apartment in anger, she only reacts by throwing away the one plate and silverware she just purchased in preparation for a dinner with him. There is no screaming or yelling, just a quiet resignation on her part that he won’t be back.
For Vatanen, will her admonishment be enough to make him change? That is the beauty of FALLEN LEAVES. It’s a peek into the ordinary lives of everyday people brilliantly conceived by the innovative Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki.
Opinion: See It Now!
David: Sometimes simpler is better, and that’s the case with FALLEN LEAVES, a charming Finnish film written and directed by prolific filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki. It is a blessed 81 minutes short.
Two patrons at a karaoke bar meet and are instantly drawn to one another. However, they are both on the shy side, neither exactly swimming in high self-esteem. At various times in the film, they do get together, but fate seems to intervene to prevent anything going further.
For example, when Ansa () gives her phone number to Holappa (), he promptly loses the piece of paper it was written on because he reaches for a cigarette and the wind takes over. Talk about the hazards of smoking…
The most serious intervention takes place late in the film and will not be revealed here. But thanks to Kaurismäki’s concise script and minimalist acting by the two leads, we are engaged in what will happen. What we do know is that these two characters do like each other. The two leads don’t have much in the way of dialogue, but their body language is expressive enough.
Holappa has a co-worker, Huotari (Janne Hyytiäinen), who fails to recognize his lack of singing ability. But that’s part of the humor in FALLEN LEAVES. Holappa also has a serious drinking problem that affects his potential relationship with Ansa.
Ansa adopts a dog named Chaplin in the movie. In real life, he is Kaurismäki’s own dog. He was hoping he would win the Palm Dog (an actual award) at Cannes, but alas that honor fell to the dog in ANATOMY OF A FALL. FALLEN LEAVES did win the Jury Prize (essentially for its originality) at the 2023 Cannes festival.
Kaurismäki infuses his movie with constant radio announcements about the war in Ukraine. As we learned from Pöysti in a Q & A, Finland’s proximity to Russia makes this war much more than a headline to the Finns.
Opinion: See It Now!