FNE at Cannes 2023: Competition: Fallen Leaves (Finland)

    Fallen Leaves by Aki Kaurismäki Fallen Leaves by Aki Kaurismäki source: Cannes FF Press Materials

    CANNNES: Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s Fallen Leaves, the fourth part of working-class trilogy Shadows in Paradise, Ariel, and The Match Factory, screens in competition in Cannes although one could ask how there could be four films in a trilogy.

    The director won the Grand Prix in Cannes in 2002 for The Man Without a Past, which also won the Best Actress Award for Kati Outinen. Despite it’s dark humour the film is full of love and hope. No one is beyond redemption. 

    But this quirky story of two lonely people, Ansa played by Alma Pöysti and Holappa played by Jussi Vatanen, who meet each other by chance in the Helsinki night and find love despite all obstacles, is a beautiful story. Holappa is an alcoholic and despite her loneliness Ansa refuses to have anything to do with Holappa once she realises this because her life was destroyed by the alcoholism of her father.

    Ansa loses her job as a supermarket worker, and driven to desperate straits gets a job at a restaurant where the owner ends up not paying her. This could be a story of victimhood but Ansa goes on to find another job and support herself in her small flat despite being poor and lonely. But you never feel she is a loser.

    Holappa is a construction worker and his alcoholism leads him to lose one job after another. He is defiant and refuses to accept he is guilty and take responsibility for making his life a disaster.

    Ansa and Holappa meet when they both decide to go to karoke one night. Neither is gifted with the ability to make easy small talk but somehow they connect and later manage to meet up.

    There is a very touching scene where Ansa invites Holappa to dinner and has to buy additional plates and glasses because her life is so lonely that she has only one place setting for herself. Despite this, when she realises that Holappa is an alcoholic she has the strength and resolve to tell him that she will not have him or any other alcoholic as a boyfriend.

    Holappa storms out and Ansa sadly throws away the new plates indicating that she doesn’t think she had another chance. But she is not a victim and decides to go out and get a dog for company.

    Finally, Holappa realises that he loves Ansa and the only way to win her is to give up alcohol, which he does. But this being Kaurismaki no sooner does he call her and head out for meeting her than he is run over by a train. But true love cannot be defeated and Ansa visits Holappa in hospital until he recovers and in the end the two battered people limp off to a presumably happy ending. Vintage Kaurismaki.

    Deadpan could have been invented for Kaurismaki although those who know the Finnish sense of humour will not place more emphasis on this than it deserves. 

    The film is 81 minutes long but more than adequate for Kaurismaki to tell the story in full and one does dream that other over long films by filmmakers would take note.

    Fallen Leaves (Finland)
    Directed by Aki Kaurismaki
    Cast: Alma Pöysti, Jussi Vatanen