Aki Kaurismäki is back with this new film Fallen Leaves that won the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. The legendary Finnish director has made a film that is bound to be the darling of the upcoming awards season and which could possibly see it win the Best Foreign Feature film at the Oscars in 2024. Fallen Leaves is a simple film that takes us through the lives of two lonely souls as they navigate their bleak lives. This is a very low-key, subtle kind of film, funny but also absurd at times. A refreshing comedy of errors love story that hits all the right notes powered by the creative storytelling ingenuity of the critically acclaimed director.
The movie kicks off with a series of shots following Ansa (Alma Pöysti) who works at a grocery store. She is closely watched by a security guard, a little too closely like he is stalking her. She goes through her boring uneventful daily routine and goes back home at the end of the day. At home, she switches on the radio only to hear depressing news of a Ukrainian hospital air strike conducted by the Russians. The food she heats up turns up overcooked that she just tosses it away. There is a sense of loneliness and sadness on her face each time we see her. It is like she is living for the sake of living with nothing to look forward to in her life. The world she lives in is filled with misery and tragedy and it sorts of rubs on to her as well.
We are then introduced to Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) who works at a construction site. He too seems to be fed up of his boring mundane routine and is fine keeping to himself. At one point he says he is depressed and hence he is drinking and he is drinking as he is depressed. This circular reasoning makes us think that there is nothing in his life that excites him, nothing to look forward to and life for. His work colleague pushes him to go to karaoke night with him and after a lot of convincing, he decides to tag along. At the bar, he notices Ansa sitting with her friend and having a drink. The two of them exchange few silent glances which they both seemed to enjoy. The next day Ansa is caught shoplifting expired food and is fired from her job. She finds a new job cleaning the kitchen at the bar she went previously. On the day she is supposed to receive her paycheck, her manager gets caught for some fraud and she loses her job again. At that moment Holappa who happens to be there as well coincidentally decides to ask her out for a movie.
This leads the audience to believe that a romantic love story of sorts will develop and that is all there is. But, keeping up with his previous films, Kaurismaki takes us on a journey that is filled with hilarious unlucky errors where both characters make assumptions and mistakes unknowingly. It is but this phase of the film that keeps the viewer hooked as to whether they end up together or not.
The film is set in recent times but the set designs and visuals but Kaurismaki wanted to make us feel like the film was shot in the 80’s or 90’s in Finland. The overall atmosphere and body language of the different characters is depicted like there is no optimism in their lives. They all have some daily routine and they just focus on that. They have nothing going on in their lives, nothing but boredom and lots of time to kill. Time itself is at a standstill in a lot of the scenes. It does move but ever so slowly. So, to find love in a hopeless place is hard and Ansa and Holappa are not expecting anything from each other. They are just treating the time they spend together as something else part of their routine. There is a classical romance movie feel as things take time to develop but the scenes go by fairly quickly with the 80 minutes runtime. The dialogues are dense and there is a lot packed into them.
The story is very simple but the humor in Fallen Leaves is what elevates this film. The mannerisms and the dialogue delivery by the main characters is very understated and is weirdly different than what most people would expect. The film shows us that the idea of falling in love and having that romance with somebody is different between everyone. It’s the small silent moments that take center stage like a cup of coffee or a simple home cooked meal or a small bottle wine just enough for two glasses. But beyond all that there is optimism that life need not be all that it seems. Life can be different, but you have to take that first step towards wanting that change. And even if you embrace the change, it might be filled with obstacles, but finding a way through it is what this film shows us. In the end, you will find that ounce of happiness that you thought had left you. This is the message Kaurismaki wants to give the audience and he emphatically delivers that.
Technically, the film gives us a a very organic film vibe. The Cinematography by Timo Salminen perfectly takes us back in time without actually doing so in modern-day Finland. The dreamy visuals and the observational nature of every scene makes us feel like a third person witnessing everyone’s life closely. The Art Direction by Ville Grönroos and the Set Decoration by Aino Kaurismäki deserves special mention as the film and its dry humor would not have worked without it. Aki Kaurismäki rolls back the years with his style of direction which is very similar to his previous films. Jussi Vatanen and Alma Pöysti are perfectly casts for their roles as two lonely people not necessarily looking for love but just looking for something more than their daily lives. Fallen Leaves is a film that is unique, refreshing and a simple watch that will leave you wanting more from the world of Aki Kaurismäki.