Aki Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film ‘Fallen Leaves’ review: Aki Kaurismäki’s adorable anthem to movies finds light in the darkness of modern life

‘Fallen Leaves’ review: Aki Kaurismäki’s adorable anthem to movies finds light in the darkness of modern life

Aki Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves

Judging by the typically ironic and catchy Aki Kaurismäki’s ‘Fallen Leaves’, the Finnish auteur’s first film since he threatened to retire after the release of ‘The Other Side of Hope’ in 2017, only two things matter significant in the world in the last six years.

The first and most pressing of these is the war in Ukraine, which spills over into the already depressing kitchen of Ansa (Alma Pöysti) whenever the supermarket cashier dares to turn on the radio after work. Hearing the news of the latest atrocity in Kiev is the only thing worse than having her microwaved dinner in the complete silence Ansa is content with when she can’t find anything more comforting on the air. She needs no more proof of the darkness outside her window, A thousand thanks.

The other big historical milestone since 2017 was of course the release of Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die”, which Ansa and the alcoholic he picked up at the local bus station (Jussi Vatanen as Holappa) see on the first date the awkward courtship that will define Kaurismäki’s very light tragicomedy. “I’ve never laughed so much,” says one of them as they walk out of the repertory theatre. Chances are Kaurismäki means all of this as a fond nod to his cutest of all American directors, but “Fallen Leaves” viewers who have seen Jarmusch’s zom-com for themselves are likely to have a very different outcome: the lives by Ansa and Holappa it must be Truly fucking gloomy.

They are (to some extent), but as tends to be the case in Kaurismäki’s films, their lives are also never as bleak as they seem. There are exceptions to this rule throughout the director’s work, and the fact that ‘Fallen Leaves’ is amusingly billed as the fourth ‘lost’ film in his proletarian trilogy – which ended on an uncharacteristically somber note with ‘The 1990’s Match-Factory Girl” – it would seem cause for concern that things between Ansa and Holappa might not work out so well.

In fact, she gets fired from the supermarket for stealing expired food, and he struggles to stay sober long enough to make it through a full shift at the construction site where he works with his friend, Houtari (Kaurismäki veteran Janne Hyytiäinen, gorgeous here as aspiring lothario who possesses god-like confidence in his karaoke skills). But hope, just like “Fallen Leaves” itself, is always and only believed get lost and happiness is never far away. While Ansa may not be able to bear the news from Ukraine that he hears on the radio, the prospect of such horror shining on his own woes proves invaluable. An 81-minute film as crisp and bittersweet as a late-autumn breeze, Kaurismäki’s latest may be little more than a scoop at the end, but it offers a stirring reminder – both with its story and through the experience of watching it – that life can only be so bleak while you can still go to the movies and escape them for a while.

The joys on display here are slight but abundant and on near-constant display. As is always the case with Kaurismäki’s films, they begin with the cinematography of Timo Salminen, whose chiaroscuro lights and dark blue shadows tease rare poetry from even the darkest life. It’s hard to imagine anything sadder than the seedy karaoke bar where a middle-aged man belts out Schubert’s “Serenade” – with live accompaniment! – for a day-labor audience at the sixth beer of the night, but Salminen’s camera turns the half-empty room into a romantic commentary on the human condition. The loneliness in the air becomes almost as thick and visible as cigarette smoke (no small feat in what may be the smokiest film this side of “Backdraft”), artfully explaining Ansa’s mutual state of mind and Holappa long before they even say a word to each other.

This being a Kaurismäki film, those words will be few and far between. “Tough guys don’t sing,” Holappa tells his friend, his face betraying all the emotion of a ventriloquist. They don’t seem to talk much either. But no matter, he and Ansa are bound by the tacit belief that their lives are not worthy of love, and when we see Ansa has to buy a second course just so he can invite Holappa over for dinner, it’s clear these two forty-somethings had given up on happiness. before finding a kindred spirit.

There’s a joy in watching Holappa’s stoic face start to loosen around the edges, just like there’s a joy in watching him screw things up a time or two. Shot with Bressonian simplicity, the scene in which she loses the Ansa number – literally dropping the piece of paper on which she wrote it – might seem too absurd in another kind of film, but this one finds conscious comfort in her witticisms. basic narratives. Holappa waits outside the cinema every night until Ansa shows up again, looking for snippets of the happiness she enjoyed there on their first date.

Such Chaplinian logic makes perfect sense within the snow globe universe of a Kaurismäki film, where time stands still even if you leave the characters behind. The world has gone online, but the local bar relies on a rainbow-colored Wurlitzer playing a Finnish-language cover of “Mambo Italiano.” Google exists in “Fallen Leaves,” but Ansa can only afford to use the laptop at its local coffee shop for 28 minutes. Later, in a very different context, Holappa will give voice to what Ansa must have felt at that moment: “I have the time, but not the money”.

Kaurismäki needs very little of both. A brittle, lucid ode to life’s little beauties that are easily lost sight of without the benefit of seeing them on the big screen, “Fallen Leaves” may have the spirit of a fairy tale and the romance of a Syrkian melodrama, but its faith in our ability to find light in the dark never seems the least bit false or naïve, because watching this film is to find it there as well.

Grade: B+

“Fallen Leaves” premiered in competition at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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