Fallen Leaves

Peter W Sheehan 15 February 2024

This subtitled Finnish-German film tells the story of two lonely people, who come together in Helsinki. They slowly develop a meaningful loving relationship.

FALLEN LEAVES. Starring: Alma Poysti and Jussi Vatanen. Directed by Aki Kaurismaki. Rated M (Mature themes and incidental coarse language). 81 min.

This is a drama-comedy film written by director Aki Kaurismaki, and is a continuation of the trilogy of films that began with his Shadows in Paradise in 1986. Fallen Leaves won the Jury Prize at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It was rated one of the top five International films of 2023 by the National Board of Review, and gained the Best Foreign Language film of 2023 award from the National Society of Film Critics in 2024.

Ansa (Poysti) and Holappa (Vatanen), meet in a local karaoke bar in Helsinki, and the attraction between them is spontaneous. Loneliness and disappointment have defined their lives in different ways. Job losses, despair, alcoholism and missed opportunities in life leave their mark. Ansa loses her job in a supermarket after being caught with an expired packet of cheese to feed a homeless man, who sifts through the supermarket’s trash, and Holappa loses his job as a metalworker because of his drinking; and he drinks because he is depressed, knowing that his work is seriously affecting his health. The attraction between them is mutual. At first, Ansa and Holappa share only a few words with each other, but life for both, against the background of the Ukrainian war, has been tragically difficult. Holappa struggles to see what lies beyond his drinking, and Ansa lives alone with few friends. In the karaoke bar, when the time comes to say goodbye, Ansa is hesitant to even tell Holappa her name. She wants to be confident that they will meet again, but Holappa loses her telephone number.

The film is a tragicomic romance that is completely uplifting. The acting performances of both Poysti and Vatanen are delivered with calmly detached humour that is amazingly poignant in what the two actors are able to portray. Silences express mutual longing, and genuine feeling. The film is understated, and dramatically arresting, and it shows ugly features of society in a disarming way. Both lead characters (Ansa and Holappa) are lonely people, trying to survive. The film emphasises human kindness. The movie becomes a story of human connectedness that might have ended in tragedy, but doesn’t.

Holappa is hit by a train on his way to apologise to Ansa for his alcoholism, and the love between them is energised by the hope their relationship has engendered.

The film is just 81 minutes long, and the director makes every scene and word count. Kaurismaki directs his scenes with warmth and empathy. He presents us with a movie where we, the viewers, strive to understand what his film wants to say. His strategy works well, and he uses it to deliver a delightful movie experience. This is a beautiful film.

Palace Entertainment
Released 14 February



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