Fallen Leaves

Fallen Leaves
Fallen Leaves
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Among the influential European film directors of the past decades, Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki has been one of the most prominent and successful. His work is typified by sparse but offbeat visual style that consists of numerous minimalist scenes, sets, and performances; he has consistently released feature films during this time with a keen eye for those rarely portrayed on screen. This led to a series of comedies in the 1980s about everyday working class people. The movie is called Fallen Leaves and it is his twentieth film.

Originally premiered at Cannes Film Festival 2023, where it eventually received Jury Prize indicating its great potential to become a hit globally especially after being acquired by MUBI. Nominated by Finland as its official entry into Academy Awards, it will be up against other co-competitors from Cannes Film Festival. In America, there have been conflicts happening in the entertainment sectors but despite all this international cinema has thrived considerably throughout this year.

Fallen Leaves belongs to his Proletariat series which deals with themes associated with individuals living in working class environments or spaces; Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen play two beautiful people who meet randomly in a bar but unknowingly think about each other for some time now. It’s a short romance movie that gets straight to the point when it comes to plot and dialogue as well as being sweet: less talk more action! This may appear good at first; however, it can also be negative because there is no room for development among characters hence making Fallen Leaves predictable and almost brainless till its end.

Fallen Leaves starts by introducing us to Ansa (Alma Pöysti), who is one of the two lead characters. She works at a local supermarket where she stocks shelves then heads home every evening to microwave meals while listening to news on Ukraine war. Despite living in Helsinki city proper, she is always alone save for when she tries to take a stale sandwich from her workplace, leading to her being sacked by the manager. Now, Ansa needs to find another job and one of them is about to come knocking at her door when she goes karaoke with a former colleague.

Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) is in the line of construction workers who drink on every single occasion including while working; he has come with his colleague. Holappa also leads a rather lonely life and merely gets by day after day: but when he sees Ansa looking back at him across the table it may seem that it is not yet love at first sight for us. Some days later, Holappa finds Ansa in front of her new workplace called California Bar while her employer is being apprehended for dealing narcotics. That same night they decide to go on a date together and they leave.

In this film’s natural deadpan humor, it potentially feels like nothing could be worse than this date. When Ansa goes to buy a cinnamon roll, Holappa produce his ever-present flask from the pocket of his inside jacket and pours half of its content into the coffee he bought. They come out of the cinema after watching The Dead Don’t Die with blank faces that appear not to have been amused by Adam Driver trying to kill a swarm of zombies. But they both agreed that they had fun at night (after all, Kaurismäki is famously known as Jim Jarmusch of Finland). And then promptly after lighting his cigarette Holappa loses Ansa’s phone number on paper.

Thus begins the story of longing which sets up expectations for the rest of Fallen Leaves. The movie revolves around these two lonely people who are struggling to survive in contemporary Helsinki. Yet outside their realms of employment and often wandering streets, there is major strife happening. Each time she switches on her radio, a new devastating information about Russia invading Ukraine comes through while when it becomes too much noise for her, she turns off her radio immediately.

However, although marketed as a romantic comedy, Fallen Leaves contains far more jokes and insults typical of European or Finnish sense of humour. This may include an overly observant grocery store employee security guard or Holappa’s friend who has delusions about himself being a karaoke star who will eventually be “discovered” by some big talent agency. There are standout moments throughout this script though. All avid moviegoers will enjoy such subtle references to some films in the background like aged movies’ posters behind them while chatting.

Nonetheless, because humor in this film is built on such foundations; it remains highly elusive during its screen time. A viewer unfamiliar with this may not get the puns and jokes slipping under quietly causing one to think over every detail when viewing such movies. It even appears as if the names of characters are puns and give clues about who they are. Some might even want to do a rewatch, which could be appropriate for this movie as it only lasts 81 minutes, making it one of those films that people could watch more than once without feeling tired of it or its characters.

It’s actually the romance that forms one of the main parts in the humor in Fallen Leaves. What we see throughout the film suggests that Ansa and Holappa should never work out together. However, their love is not meant to be based on everything that happens to them, but because fate has ordained it so they both end up becoming madly in love. The narrative style presented throughout the film abounds with twists and turns thus at some points it seems like fate won’t allow them to work out yet by the end of the film there is hope despite Finns perpetually worrying about Russia spilling over their borders.

Somehow, Fallen Leaves is a step back. These include retro styled items such as radios despite the fact that the film is set in present times. Yet, even though their inner worlds seem boring and can be easily engulfed by darkness and rain, they sometimes produce surprising bursts of color in the background or might have a character interacting with an object or simply when leaves fall due to passage of time. Sometimes Ansa and Holappa are laconic in the expressions of their faces and in conversations with others although everything changes when they begin interacting with these external objects.

Music is found in different parts of this movie. Karaoke has a huge role to play within these characters’ lives even as they meet up at a karaoke bar. It’s only when he is watching a bunch of women sing about love and loss during a musical performance that Holappa realizes what he has been missing out on all his life long concerning relationships; otherwise, he will be faced with guilt resulting from his own laziness regarding love affairs forever after. In this Helsinki that looks like there could be just some few people living throughout its existence permanently trapped between 1960s to 1970s, this sense of anxiety which Holappa feels is what gives any meaning or direction to the entire film. This would however not be possible if it were not for Holappa’s numerous shortcomings since nothing could keep going.

Generally speaking, Fallen Leaves was good but so short lived that it can leave us wanting more from its characters and storylines too. It rushes through romance begging for suspension of disbelief and moves mechanically fast through stages of plot development though it may appear like Korean dramas here and there. The surface level simplicity should not fool one if political overtones dotted all over do not resonate with them nor do they get many comedic undertones here; thus making it appears quite unusual but whether it will go down in history as such remains uncertain.

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