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Film Review: FALLEN LEAVES (2023): Finnish Filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki Delivers a Humorous but Slight Slice of Life

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Alma Pöysti Jussi Vatanen Fallen Leaves

Fallen Leaves Review

Fallen Leaves (2023) Film Review, a movie written and directed by Aki Kaurismäki and starring Alma Pöysti, Jussi Vatanen, Alina Tomnikov, Martti Suosalo, Janne Hyytiäinen, Sakari Kuosmanen, Maria HeiskanenNuppu Koivu, Sherwan Haji, Eero Ritala, Mikko Mykkänen, Lauri Untamo and Simon Al-Bazoon.

Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki brings a unique story of love set in Helsinki to life with the ultimately charming, Fallen Leaves. There is a lot of thematic substance to Fallen Leaves underneath the surface even though the writer/director, Kaurismäki, undermines it with some jokes that aren’t really that funny in the grand scheme of things. The distinct humor of this movie works best when it focuses on the idiosyncrasies of its two main characters, Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen). It’s ultimately the bond these two characters form which navigates the viewer through the, at times, unnecessarily complicated story line.

Ansa and Holappa meet cute at a bar where its customers regularly participate in rounds of karaoke. The film initially introduces us to the characters one at a time and develops them accordingly via the events that transpire within the picture. As the movie opens, we see Ansa as a stock girl at the local supermarket where a security guard zeroes in on her to discover that she is taking expired food instead of throwing it out as directed. For this, she is terminated. Holappa ignores the no smoking sign at his unattractive job and drinks, almost like a fish.

Out of the two main characters, Ansa is definitely the more responsible one. Holappa takes too many risks whereas Ansa is sort of the victim of her own integrity. Ansa is smart but also seems to be a victim of bad luck. When the two meet cute at the local pub, Ansa quickly gives Holappa her phone number which he proceeds to lose through an unfortunate series of events.

Fallen Leaves is the type of whimsical romantic comedy/drama that Hollywood used to crank out in the 1990’s, albeit with more of a sharp edge to it this time. These central characters are far from financially stable, yet they still share the yearning for love and affection. Ansa and Holappa’s first date involves watching a zombie movie together and Ansa hilariously tells Holappa that the authorities couldn’t have beaten the zombies. There was no way. That moment is really genuine and stood out as a great scene in a movie with several mediocre ones. Ansa and Holappa grow fond of each other through their absence from one another until a plot development has them reconnecting through what feels like divine intervention even though it’s really just thanks to them living in a neighborhood with a small circle of people.

This movie is directed with a lot of style and the main characters have charm and personality to spare which helps shape their lives as they are portrayed to the audience. The movie is overly reliant, though, on outrageous plot developments that seem to come straight out of a soap opera or romantic films from the 1990’s. One of our key characters falls into a coma after leaving to go meet the other in a way that is reminiscent of Love Affair from 1994. This script employed in Fallen Leaves is certainly not brilliant but it certainly has moments of cleverness that make it stand out significantly from similar romantic films today. Credit the acting for that.

The performance by Pöysti exceeds expectations and the actress puts a lot of heart into her role. She adopts a dog late in the movie who would have otherwise been destroyed due to being abandoned. Ansa and the dog become companions while Ansa waits for Holappa tor turn up again, hopefully for better rather than worse this time. Vatanen is believable in his role as the blue collar worker who tries so hard to get by but lets his addictions and misfortunes get in the way of his ultimate happiness, especially in terms of his desire for romantic bliss.

There are minor problems that manifest themselves throughout this movie. While it’s a quality film, there are too many meaningless supporting characters who get lost in the shuffle to tell the romantic story of Ansa and Holappa. I admired the movie’s use of character actors to advance the plot but only wished they had bigger sections in the picture. This film could have certainly been expanded to include them more in the story line given the movie’s brief 80-minute running time.

This film also brings too much social and political commentary into the action through the announcements on the radio which Ansa listens attentively to. At the same time, thanks to the movie’s brevity, the film never drags and gets its moving point across by the time the end credits roll. It’s probably not worth quibbling about the minor details when the end result is so winning by the time the picture concludes.

Fallen Leaves, as I stated, is a whimsical throwback to those old romance movies that Hollywood used to put out so frequently a few decades back. That may not have been the director’s intention but having seen so many love stories, it’s easy to see the cliches employed in Fallen Leaves to tell this story. But, still, Fallen Leaves has enough good, original qualities that make it worth watching for fans of romantic dramas that have plenty of humorous touches sprinkled in.

Rating: 7/10

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