Aki Kaurismäki (director)
01 December 2023 (released)
29 November 2023
There are times when filmmakers make overt or not so overt observations about certain issues and occasionally it’s obvious and something that they find incredibly painful to do. There’s several such sequences in Fallen Leaves written and directed by Aki Kaurismäki that could lead the viewer to think this.
Ostensibly the film is about a romance that develops between Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen). She is a shop-worker who is sacked for stealing an out-of-date roll, gets a job at a bar where the owner is a drug dealer and eventually find employment on a building site. He is a metal worker unable to keep a job due to his boozing. They meet at a karaoke, go to the cinema but Holappa loses Ansa’s number.
They clearly like each other and there’s mutual frustration, Ansa that he hasn’t called and Holappa for losing the number, though he hangs outside the cinema hoping she will turn up and she does. Invited to a meal at Ansa’s, Holappa lets himself down and is thrown out. This leads to a period of self-reflection on his life and the reality of where he is heading.
While there are gentle comedic elements; the bar owner when arrested shouting that they’ll never take him alive which is out of shot, the camera concentrating on the small watching crowd, the general beats are gloomy.
Kaurismäki works in an observational way with few flurries and a script that has the actors delivery almost staccato like. As such it can appear abrupt at times but not alienating, as you are drawn towards these people and begin to empathise. There’s also plenty going on in the background with film-posters in many shots some that may or may not directly refer to the scene in hand. Fun for the cineastes.
However what is very clear is that drink runs through the film with Holappa’s alcoholism to the fore, as it takes its toll. Then what could be interpreted as a metaphor for Finnish society in a sequence in a bar with the camera fixed on a jukebox that pulls away to reveal men just drinking no chat, no humour, blank expressions the only movement the beer glass to their mouths.
This is life on the breadline in Helsinki of zero-hour contracts or none at all, the fear of the sack ever present, and having to make every penny count. Ansa just ploughs on, her only company a radio with the depressing news of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine as background.
Holappa losing job and accommodation is in bars and on the streets. At first, they and the other cast members could be seen as oddball, with the manner of speech and the way they are filmed at times just rows of blank faces. It all combines to cut across and counter the celebrated Scandinavian lifestyle of continuous happiness and health. Highly recommended.
Fallen Leaves will be in UK cinemas from 1 December 2023