Two solitary people in Helsinki look for a way out of their loneliness in this warm-hearted, tragicomic triumph from Aki Kaurismäki.
Aki Kaurismäki’s 20th feature in 40 years, Fallen Leaves takes place in a very personalized version of Helsinki, one intimately familiar to longtime admirers of the Finnish director’s hilariously deadpan, fervently humanist tragicomedies. Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), spend their waking hours in drab workplaces, bars full of stone-faced patrons, and sparsely decorated homes in which a radio is the height of modern technology. Despite the decades that have passed between Kaurismäki’s latest and his Proletariat Trilogy (1986–90) — of which the director considers Fallen Leaves a belated extension — they all seem to take place in the same sad, strange world.
Yet within this space, viewers will find the richness of feeling that’s a hallmark of the director’s recent work. Fallen Leaves is also among his funniest movies, with Kaurismäki taking full advantage of all the sight gags and recurring jokes at his disposal. The material just gets richer as the bond between Ansa and Holappa deepens, their first encounter at a karaoke bar followed by an outing to a screening of Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die (one of many nods to Kaurismäki’s friends and inspirations).
The couple’s chance for happiness feels all the more precious due to the film’s only significant acknowledgement of our present moment: news reports on the war in Ukraine, a source of anxiety in a country that shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia. This intrusion of the real adds another layer of poignancy to Kaurismäki’s celebration of the solace we may find in each other, if we’re brave enough to try.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: mature themes
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