There has been a lot of fanfare around this film. It has had a slew of award nominations and wins, including being shortlisted for an Oscar in the International film category. However, it’s best to go in to a screening disregarding all this because the expectation will offset the experience.
Fallen Leaves is the latest offering from Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki, who has something of a cult following. A master of minimalism and moribund storylines, Kaurismäki has made fans wait 6 years for this film, but by all accounts, they’re not disappointed. Critics have also been favourable in their response. It’s fair to say, though, that this is a film for a certain palate.
The plot, or what there is of one, is very simple, but this is not a film driven by narrative. It’s a film that holds a magnifying glass over a very esoteric segment of Finnish society, allowing us to observe its inhabitants like critters in a petri dish ghetto.
Alma Pöysti plays Ansa, a young, single woman of meagre means. Jussi Vatanen is Holappa, a young man also living hand to mouth and turning increasingly to the nullifying comfort of alcohol. Each is living an unremarkable existence where circumstances force them from one soul-less job to another.
Ansa and Holappa meet by chance in a bar one night. They begin a courtship that is as painstakingly slow and awkward as that of two thirteen year-olds. The plot basically follows this slow-boiling romance through a number of bumps and turns.
There is no sizzle on the screen, no sexual tension, in fact, few of the characters show much emotion at all. As is typical of Kaurismäki’s signature style, all the characters in the film are deadpan, and the dialogue is almost absurdist. There’s a Brechtian feel to it.
If you can tune into the right wavelength, it’s quite humorous in a dry, subtle way.
The setting is stark, reflective of bleak poverty. Everything from the bars to bedrooms to a hospital room are so minimal they feel like a stage set.
There are peripheral characters who add some volume to the story, in particular Holappa’s slightly older friend, Huotari (Janne Hyytiäinen) who gets some of the best comic lines.
This is likely one of those films you can watch repeatedly and discover something new each time, like why film posters feature so prominently in the backgrounds and what the songs in the soundtrack tell us.
If you’re after action, passion, laugh-out-loud comedy, or tear-dabbing, this may not be one for you. But if you’re up for something more intellectual, abstract, yet still kind of heartwarming and cute, then Fallen Leaves might just fit the bill.
In cinemas February 14