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Fallen Leaves

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Fallen Leaves
Photograph: Sputnik

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Aki Kaurismäki, the Finnish maestro of black comedy, delivers a lovely tale of almost-doomed romance

Can a film be both bleak and lovely at the same time? Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki (The Other Side of Hope, Drifting Clouds) takes a good stab at it with this black comic, repeatedly-stalled love story in which Helsinki again serves as a convincing shabby crucible of broken dreams. It’s a low-key treat with moments of real bliss.

Our two leads look like they’ve had the life sucked out of them. Middle-aged Ansa (Alma Pöysti) stacks shelves in a supermarket but is sacked for taking home out-of-date food and distributing it to the poor. Long-faced Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) works as a metalworker and lives in a dormitory on the job, but he’s soon fired, too, in his case for knocking back moonshine at work. News of the Ukraine war plays on the radio (especially relevant news for Russia’s neighbour Finland, not even a member of NATO when this was shot) and the screws are tightening at every turn.

It sounds miserable, but Kaurismäki finds moments of morose comedy everywhere, whether it’s the burly security guard at the supermarket (‘I was just following orders’) or the unlikely named grim dive bar, California Pub. It’s not all a downward spiral. There’s romance on the horizon when Ansa and Holappa meet in a karaoke club and enjoy a date at the cinema (to see Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die). But the horizon keeps shifting: Holappa loses Ansa’s phone number, only one of several mishaps to keep them them apart as soon as a relationship beckons.

Aki Kaurismäki is the king of pared-down deadpan melancholy

Kaurismäki is the king of pared-down deadpan melancholy, and with Fallen Leaves he gifts his loyal subjects a familiar tale in look and spirit. Present and correct is his usual shadowy noir lighting and a jukebox soundtrack of Finnish and other ballads. It builds on his other stories of Finnish working-class woe and wears its film-loving heart on its sleeve with wry nods to other directors throughout.

Particular to Fallen Leaves is a deep, amused sigh at the limitations of men and alcohol, especially when paired. But it’s not judgy, just jaded, at least until the clouds finally start to part. It finds genuine humour in its characters’ almost down-and-out lot, but it’s fully on their side – the side of those trampled on by modern times.

In US theaters Nov 17 and UK cinemas Dec 1. 

Dave Calhoun
Written by
Dave Calhoun

Cast and crew

  • Director:Aki Kaurismäki
  • Screenwriter:Aki Kaurismäki
  • Cast:
    • Alma Pöysti
    • Alina Tomnikov
    • Jussi Vatanen
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