We close this year’s festival with the most delightful film from Cannes. Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki returns with a deadpan romantic crowdpleaser about two lost souls on a bumpy road to finding each other.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Returning to the Festival after a six-year absence the wry Finnish master Aki Kaurismäki, harkens back further with Fallen Leaves, jokingly pitched as a lost work from his early 90s heyday. A critical favourite at Cannes, where it picked up the Jury Prize and topped Screendaily’s influential Cannes critic’s poll, Kaurismäki’s latest delivers an endearing romantic tale in his trademark deadpan style, cleverly incorporating some biting political commentary as well as plenty of cinematic in-jokes.
We’re introduced to Ansa (Alma Pöysti), working in a supermarket on an exploitative zero-hours contract. Bristling against having to throw away perfectly good food at the end of the day, she is fired when caught handbagging an expired sandwich. Later in a karaoke bar, Ansa meets construction worker and fellow lonely soul Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) sparking an immediate connection. Their relationship blossoms during a successful movie date, albeit one with questionable cinematic taste. Our hangdog lovers choose none-other than the renowned disasterpiece The Dead Don’t Die from fellow droll merchant Jim Jarmusch for their date night and perhaps the post-viewing exclamation by one “I’ve never laughed so much,” is a clue to the true loneliness of their lives. A subsequent series of mishaps seems to imply that this budding romance could be doomed…
Kaurismäki punctuates events with radio news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (no-one in the film seems to have a smartphone, much less a television), adding to the underlying tension and providing a canny reminder that the Finns share a border with Russia and have much more to lose from Russian expansionism than most.
“The director’s characteristic heightened colour schemes and composed play with shadows and light give Fallen Leaves – shot as ever by Timo Salminen—that distinctive look of a fictional world sealed in on itself, yet carrying recognisable elements of the real Helsinki. The soundtrack is perhaps Kaurismäki’s most diverse to date, with a bizarrely eclectic karaoke session featuring hard rock, stately Finnish tango and a Schubert serenade.
Fallen Leaves do indeed appear, in a lovely autumnal montage, but no less liberally scattered are the vintage movie posters seen throughout, with Kaurismäki as ever paying tribute to the great names—Ozu, Bresson and Chaplin only being the most obvious. Kaurismäki fans will note a fleeting cameo by long-term regular Sakari Kuosmanen and can be assured that sooner or later, the latest of a long line of lugubriously lovable screen dogs will get a look in.” — Jonathan Romney, Screendaily