Helsinki supermarket clerk Ansa (Alma Pöysti) goes home alone to listen to distressing news from Mariupol, under invasion by the country on her border. Metal worker Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) keeps liquor stashed around a construction site to get him through the day. The two will spy each other at a karaoke night with friends, but fate seems to stand in their way in “Fallen Leaves.”
Laura's Review: A-
There’s something a little different about writer/director Aki Kaurismäki’s ("The Man Without a Past," "The Other Side of Hope") latest, immediately identifiable as his with his deadpan comedy, sad sack characters and straightforward shooting style. But this time he’s added melodrama to the mix, a swelling musical score adding comic touches to a truly moving romance, one which plays like a gender reversed homage to “An Affair to Remember.”
Before he allows his couple to connect, Kaurismäki again considers the plight of the blue collar worker, Ansa watched like a hawk during work hours by the security guard who will eventually get her fired for having slipped an expired pastry into her bag; Holappa, who breathes in dangerous dust all day, let go when his blood alcohol level tests too high after a workplace accident. After finding work as a dish washer, Ansa will find Holappa, who she recognizes from karaoke night, passed out in a bus shelter and chase away the teens trying to rob him, straightening him up on the bench and caressing his face before boarding his tram. He’ll waken just as it pulls away, music plaintively noting the missed opportunity as editor Samu Heikkilä cuts to cinematographer Timo Salminen’s ("Le Havre") close-up of Ansa, this film’s equivalent of camera movement.
The two finally cross paths, Holappa inviting Ansa for a coffee, then a movie (Jim Jarmusch's "The Dead Don't Die”), a solemn faced Ansa saying she’s never laughed so hard. She gives him her telephone number but not her name (‘next time’), but when Holappa reaches for his cigarettes, it slips out of his pocket unnoticed. He’ll wait outside the movie theater night after night, Ansa arriving just in time to find the pile of cigarette butts he’s left behind. He’ll tell his friend Huotari (Janne Hyytiäinen, "The Other Side of Hope") that he ‘almost married her.’ She’ll stare out a tram window on her foggy daily commute, a Finnish version of Gordon Lightfoot's 'Early Mornin' Rain' a mournful accompaniment. Then one night, she’ll walk up to that theater and Holappa is there, explaining how he lost her number as soon as she’d given it to him. She invites him for dinner, but one glass of pink bubbly from the split she’d bought leaves him thirsting for more and when she finds him hiding in her hallway, gulping from a flask, she’s firm – her brother and father died from drink and her mother died from grief – ‘I won’t take a drunk.’
Taking his place will be a delightful stray she takes from coworkers leading it away one day, but Holappa finds his life is empty and after pouring every bit of booze down the sink, calls her declaring himself ‘as sober as a desert rat.’ ‘Come right over,’ she tells him, but fate divides them yet again.
“Fallen Leaves” is full of delightful moments that add to its texture, if not its plot, like a sad café’s bedraggled customers all slumped over drinks as ‘Mambo Italiano’ enlivens the scene. There’s something Chaplinesque about Kaurismäki’s work, something he himself recognizes when we hear that little dog’s name in the film’s closing scene. With “Fallen Leaves,” Kaurismäki exhibits a heightened mastery of tone, his film at once funny and deadly serious and one of his best.
Robin's Review: B+
Helsinki, Finland. Two lonely souls, Ansa (Alma Poysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), have a chance meeting at a karaoke bar. They seem to be on track to find happiness together but a lost phone number, non-crossing paths and his problem with drinking may dash that hope in “Fallen Leaves.”
Director Aki Kaurismaki is known for his austere filmmaking style and his latest, an odd little Finnish love story, follows that track. Done is a deadpan manner, Ansa and Holappa live their separate, lonely existences? One night, when she and her girlfriend and he and his best bud go to the bar, they have a chance meet.
In the best tradition of romantic movies, the two hit it off and Ansa gives him her phone number and a kiss on the cheek. Hollopa is, of course, immediately smitten and, almost as quickly, loses her number. This begins a cycle of waiting – her for his phone call and he in hopes of another chance meeting – as their paths almost cross many times. I got impatient for them to get together and, when they do, he screws it up with his drinking problem.
Simply put, if you want to pigeon-hole a nice, genuine romance with traces of offbeat humor, then you may look upon “Fallen Leaves” in such a way. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, then meets girls again only to lose girl – making me have hope that he will meet girl again. No surprise, he does and it is a very satisfying journey.
Mubi opens "Fallen Leaves" in select theaters on 11/17/23, expanding nationwide on 12/1/23.