Fallen Leaves (2023)

This Cannes Jury prize winner is a refreshing mid life romantic film delivered in characteristic plain and deadpan style of Finnish master Aki Kaurismaki

2/7/20244 min read

Alma Poysti and Jussi Vatanen in 'Fallen Leaves'
Alma Poysti and Jussi Vatanen in 'Fallen Leaves'

Finnish, 80 mins, 2023

Director: Aki Kaurismaki

Cast: Alma Poysti, Jussi Vatanen, Janne Hyytiainen, Nuppu Koivu, Matti Onnismaa

Awards: Won Jury Prize and Nominated for Palme d”Or, Cannes Film Festival, 2023; Won Silver Hugo (Best Direction) and nominated for Golden Hugo, Chicago International Film Festival, 2023; Best International Feature, Toronto Film Critics Association, 2023; Nominated for Best International Independent Film, British Independent Film Awards, 2023

Had it not featured news of Russian invasion of Ukraine relayed on a radio set of sixties-seventies possessed by Ansa (Alma Poysti), lead female character, one could easily take this as a movie made in seventies or eighties. This is a simple romantic film- as simple as it can get- with all conventional ingredients like chance meeting, not knowing each other’s names, losing phone number by mistake, then heartbreak, then sympathy for injured and finally heartwarming reunion, i.e. happy ending. So it is not the story which grips you, it is the screenplay dished out by the master Aki Kaurismaki and his skillful handling that elevates this rudimentary romance to a certain class.

Ansa works at a supermarket as a stocking worker. Ansa and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) meet by chance at a Karaoke club on a Friday night- By chance, because Holappa is not keen but is forced by his room-mate Huotari (Janne Hyytiainen). Ansa is there with her coworker Liisa (Nuppu Koivu). They don’t exchange a single word but just glances. Interestingly, dialogues in this film are delivered in deadpan straight-to-the-point Kaurismaki style without any hint of emotion. So obviously, smiles and tears-traditional staple diet of romance- are difficult to spot. Yet film is not bereft of emotions and you do feel for characters. Later, after few days, Ansa spots him at a tram stop drunk and asleep. She unsuccessfully tries to wake him up, checks that he looks Ok and leaves when her tram arrives.

Later Ansa gets fired for picking up expired items from Shelves. Her coworker Liisa too joins her and both get fired. Out of desperation she starts working at a bar for doing dishes. The job is hectic but to her surprise, on the payday, bar’s owner is arrested for dealing in drugs and mysteriously Holappa arrives at the scene. He offers to take her to coffee. Later they watch a movie together and Ansa shares her phone number with Holappa. Holappa negligently drops the piece of the paper. Ansa has now started working at an iron foundry. She waits for his call but Holappa can’t. Remembering that Ansa had told her that she lives near movie theatre, he waits there daily- an idea, straight out of any eighties movie, an era without mobiles and mails. Interestingly, both do not know each other’s names and hence can’t trace each other. Eventually, Ansa comes near movie theatre and both meet. She invites him for dinner and shares her address which he puts in his wallet safely.

Cash strapped Ansa has to buy another plate and cutlery for her guest. Holappa arrives and they have dinner. After dinner, he drinks from his flask which is seen by Ansa. She abhors drunks, she says, since her father and brother died due to drinking. Holappa leaves, saying he can’t take orders. Both are miserable for some time. Holappa is kicked out of his job due to drinking on site too.

Loneliness haunts both. Ansa spots an abandoned dog and brings it home whereas Holappa frustrated at his own weakness for liquor empties his bottles in basin and then calls Ansa. Declaring that he is as sober as “desert rat”, he confesses he wants to meet Ansa. Delighted, she asks him to come right away. However, as soon as he leaves his AA quarters, we hear a scream indicating that he has met with an accident. Ansa waits for him all night. After few days Huotari bumps into her and tells her that Holappa is in Coma. She visits the hospital and makes her habit of daily visiting and reading something to him even though he is unconscious. So when one day he wakes up, hospital calls her. Ansa reaches there they both talk. On discharge, Ansa winks at limping Holappa and both are shown taking a stroll in park with dog, named ‘Chaplin’ by Ansa.

Both, Alma Poysti as Ansa and Jussi Vatanen as a drunkard Holappa deliver classic performances with deadpan faces and pointed dialogues, probably as desired by Aki Kaurismaki. The movie does make a political statement by relaying news about how Russians are attacking civilian areas in Ukraine on various occasions in the film and focusing on poverty in Finland. Both the lead characters are shown poor and live from day to day without any savings. The film in a nutshell is differently romantic but entertaining and definitely worth seeing.

About the director, Aki Kaurismaki

Born in April, 1957 in the town of Orimattila, Finland, Aki Kaurismaki graduated in media studies from University of Tampere and started working as a writer. His debut was with his brother, Mika Kaurismaki. Aki was the lead actor and co-screenwriter of the film, ‘The Liar’ directed by his brother in 1981.

Aki Kaurismaki’s directorial debut, ‘Crime and Punishment’, based on Dostoevsky’s famous novel, came in 1983 which was set in modern day Helsinki. It was followed by ‘Calamari Union’ (1985), ‘Shadows in Paradise’ (1986), ‘Hamlet Goes Business’ (1987) and ‘Ariel’ (1988) in quick succession. However, his next film, ‘Leningrad Cowboys Go America’, made in 1989, can be said as the film which gave him some recognition. The film is a road movie where a music band called ‘Leningrad Cowboys’ go to America gain success and fame.

He continued to write, direct and also edit many films after 1989 but his crowning glory came with the film, ‘The man without a past’ made in 2002. The film was awarded ‘Grand Prix’, the second most prestigious award at the Cannes Film Festival, 2002. This film is regarded as second film in the “Finland Trilogy”, the other two being ‘Drifting Clouds’ (1996) and ‘Lights in the Dusk’ (2006). This film was also nominated for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at Academy Awards.

Present film comes after a gap of six years. His last film before this was ‘The Other Side of Hope’ made in 2017. The received rave reviews and lot of nominations and handful of awards at various film festivals.