Cannes 2023: Aki Kaurismäki's Simple, Sweet Love Story 'Fallen Leaves'
by Alex Billington
May 23, 2023
For those that are not already familiar with Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki's films, I will say that they are an acquired taste. His dry wit and minimalistic dead pan style definitely won't work for everyone, and some viewers will be left wanting. I will admit that I'm not a fan of all of his films either - some of them I like much more than others. However, if there's a particular story or something appealing about one of them that interests you - it's worth watching just to enjoy some international cinema that is unique. His latest film is called Fallen Leaves (originally Kuolleet Lehdet in Finnish) and it just premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where Kaurismäki is a regular. He's been attending Cannes (and tons of other festivals) since 1996 with Drifting Clouds. After so many heavy, dark, deep dramas, it's a joy to watch & enjoy something so upbeat and fresh and light. It's also a breezy 81 minutes, which is just the right length for this sweet love story. I can recommend this film to anyone looking for some feel good Finnish romance vibes at the cinema.
Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves is once again set in Helsinki. While it has an old school vibe ("from a time long ago"), it's clearly set in modern times - the characters often listen to radio reports about Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The story introduces two lonely Helsinki residents - Holappa, played by Jussi Vatanen, and Ansa, played by Alma Pöysti. They randomly meet at a karaoke bar one night, but when she gives him her number to call her, the paper suddenly slips out of his pocket. Kaurismäki has stated the film is about all the little mishaps and quirks about romance that get in the way of simply meeting up and falling in love straight away. They both return to the cinema where they had a lovely evening before, but keep missing each other there. Both of them also lose their blue collar jobs, and have to find other work – which is a common theme with Kaurismäki's films, always telling stories about working class people. The context around the war in Ukraine is seemingly not that important to the story, but in my view it is simply a reminder that in turbulent, scary times – love and connection is the most important thing for humans… Love keeps us going.
It's also worth noting how a really simple story can actually work really well when told by a filmmaker who loves telling simple stories. Much of Kaurismäki's filmography involves simple stories with his Finnish dead pan vibe. There's not much emotion expressed by the actors, but it absolutely is there if you look closely. The actors are expressing that emotion extremely subtly, and Fallen Leaves works particularity well because they do have a palpable connection between them. All this film is is a love story between two lonely people, overcoming awkward obstacles and issues in order to find out how to be together and make their lives just a little brighter. It has the most adorable little doggie in it, which makes it even better. There's some excellent music throughout, including one amazing performance at a bar by Finnish rock band sisters Maustetytöt. I'm hoping this film turns them into an international sensation, because they don't seem to known outside of Finland yet. Thank you, Aki, for introducing us to this band and to this amusing little story from Helsinki.
Alex's Cannes 2023 Rating: 8 out of 10
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