wed 24/07/2024

Fallen Leaves review - deliciously dry Finnish romcom | reviews, news & interviews

Fallen Leaves review - deliciously dry Finnish romcom

Fallen Leaves review - deliciously dry Finnish romcom

Aki Kaurismaki returns to the cinema with a touching tale of love

Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen): not just a brief encounter...

Fallen Leaves is Aki Kaurismäki’s 20th film, the one the Finnish director made after he said he’d retired from cinema in 2017 and frankly, if you didn’t like his earlier films, you shouldn’t bother with this one. But if you’re a fan (and I am and so was the Cannes jury which gave it the Fipresci prize), Fallen Leaves is an utter pleasure from beginning to end. 

There’s nothing hugely original here – you could probably play Kaurismäki Bingo spotting the familiar tropes. There’s a winsome dog, dour Finns drinking in drab bars watching laconic musicians and lonely souls leading lives of quiet desperation. It's all played out using the familiar minimalist camera moves and the director's signature colour palette that seems limited to the hues a bruise turns as it fades.

This time the dog is a sandy mutt adopted by Ansa (Alma Pöysti) who shares her drab bedsit where she spends long evenings after a day working as a cashier in a supermarket. She listens to news of the war in Ukraine on her old fashioned radio (Fallen Leaves is not overtly about immigration as Le Havre and The Other Side of Hope were, but Kaurismaki’s passionately pro-asylum stance holds firm). 

When Ansa gets fired from her job for giving past-its sell-by-date food to a homeless man, she signs up for a zero-hours contract sorting out recycling as a way to pay the rent. One evening Ansa goes to a karaoke bar with her friend Liisa. The bar is full of old geezers, a goth granny is the DJ and on the playlist are Finnish schlager hits from the Forties and Fifties. It's a classic Kaurismäki scene where every extra has a face that could have escaped from an advert for anti-depressants. Two weary mates eye up Ansa and her pal Liisa (Nuppu Koivu).  Liisa delivers a formidably funny put down when one of them, Huotari (Janne Hyytianainen), attempts to impress at karaoke. But his friend Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) does manage to take Ansa on a date to the cinema where they watch Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Lie.

It's not the only movie reference. Kaurismäki (who converted an old factory in his home town into a bar with a cinema and a sauna during his break from film-making) gives screen time to posters from Brief Encounter and Pierrot le Fou. Add that to the Bingo  spot the movie homages (Bresson makes an appearance too).

The path to true love is not straightforward. Holappa has a drink problem and Ansa has enough family experience of alcoholism to want to steer clear. There are mishaps and misunderstandings and Kaurismäki demonstrates his mastery of visual gags and minimalist dialogue. He could make a silent comedy (the dog  ends up being called Chaplin), except that he’s so good at writing austerely funny exchanges. Fallen Leaves runs for 82 perfect minutes, which in an era of overblown epics that numb your posterior, makes it a total joy. Watch it and afterwards go and find somewhere to drink vodka and eat rye bread with that squeaky cheese the Finns mystifyingly love.

The 82 perfect minute running time makes it a total joy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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