'Fallen Leaves' Review: Two Loners Are Adrift In Aki Kaurismäki's Glum Romantic Comedy
He's just a man, standing in front of a woman, with zero juice and unable to say anything smart. Every now and then it'll turn out okay anyway, especially if you're helped by some movie magic which is something that Fallen Leaves (Kuolleet lehdet in Finnish) happens to have. Written and directed by deadpan auteur Aki Kaurismäki, the deadly serious romantic comedy leaves us in the presence of Ansa (Alma Pöysti), a Helsinkian who works low-level jobs and struggles financially. After a short first encounter at a dim karaoke bar, she later begins to date Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), a sandblaster who himself is in the tight grip of alcoholism. We see them get together for lunch and a movie night before he loses her number, leaving the two sombre souls to try and find each other again.
Minimal but intentionally so, the movie just further proves the point that if you're able to focus on what is necessary, you might come away with something that resonates. What's notable here is that both the romance and comedy sing together in harmony which is so irresistible that you'll ultimately find yourself harmonising with these characters as well. For the first 15 minutes, however, it can seem difficult since the story is led less by them and more by Timo Salminen's cinematography which is clearly the film's weakest link. Compositions, lighting and starting points are a bit too in love with movie posters, poor background action and stagnation whilst being rather careless when it comes to what actually matters which is Ansa and Holappa's connection as well as gloomy spaces that they choose to occupy.
Once Pöysti and Vatanen are allowed to take the lead, Fallen Leaves starts to find and capture memorable, truthful moments. Screen chemistry is one thing—and these two actors certainly possess that—but in a moving format it's important to combine that with delivering the text tastefully, which is what they do. Both of them showcase great comedic timing and balance it with portraying a heavy weight of melancholy that Ansa and Holappa carry on their shoulders, something that also makes the blossoming romance quite naive but also delightful. Kaurismäki's writing intelligently assesses that dichotomy when sniping clever little jokes at you before painting a picture of two lonely bodies and minds adrift as they seek a small amount of comfort by turning off the radio or not thinking about one's next drink and instead sharing the burden with each other.
Kaurismäki and co. also do all of this in a bustling 80 minutes, moving in and out of warmth and coldness efficiently but still giving you substance along the way. And sure, you've heard many of these karaoke tunes before but as long as you sing them with a solid baritone voice, we'll happily listen to them.
Smileys: Humour, acting, screenplay, pacing
He's trapped now.