Aki Kaurismäki is the Finnish director who is notable for being not simply one of the directors who is always welcome in the Cannes competition, but also is one of the rarer subset who actually makes funny films; that is, actually-funny and not just arthouse-funny. Fallen Leaves is another of Kaurismäki’s beguiling and delightful cinephile comedies, featuring foot-tapping rock’n’roll. It’s romantic and sweet-natured, in a deadpan style that in no way undermines or ironises the emotions involved and with some sharp things to say about contemporary politics.
I couldn’t help but support the main characters in a simple and genuine manner, more so than any other film at Cannes. Finnish film enthusiasts will surely love it – and they will especially appreciate the silent appearance of well-known Finnish director and Cannes veteran Juho Kuosmanen. However, this movie is enjoyable for everyone, and despite its title, it exudes a sense of springtime.
Ansa, portrayed by Alma Pöysti, is employed at a supermarket on a contract with zero guaranteed working hours. She is troubled by the fact that her job requires her to discard perfectly edible food at closing time. When a surly security guard catches her giving away such food to individuals in dire need, she loses her job for attempting to take home an expired sandwich.
Afterwards, Ansa ends up at a karaoke bar where she encounters Holappa, a construction worker (played by Jussi Vatanen). Despite being two solitary individuals, there is an undeniable connection between them. They go on a successful date to the cinema, but a string of unfortunate events could potentially ruin their relationship – and Kaurismäki may be drawing a parallel to the movie An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Additionally, Holappa is a drinker and possibly an alcoholic, and his drinking brings out a negative side. Foolishly, he fails to realize that his alcohol consumption is jeopardizing his chance at happiness with his soulmate.
In addition, the characters periodically use a radio to listen to the news. They do not have modern technology like smartphones or TVs, which gives the impression that the story is set in the 1960s. The news they hear is about the Russian attack on Ukraine, and it evokes feelings of resentment, sadness, and defiance. The director, Kaurismäki, wants us to understand that Finland is located near Russia, so the fear of Putin’s regime is not a distant concern like it may be in other countries such as the UK, US, or Germany. For Finland, the threat of Russian troops is very real. The ongoing war has affected Finland’s well-being, but the people are determined to continue on. Despite its absurd and exaggerated elements, Fallen Leaves is a heartwarming film that leaves you feeling good.