Aki Kaurismaki is a regular in Cannes and while he has never quite won the top prize and one could argue his films are not seen as "serious" enough which is a shame as he has a knack of dealing with some profound issues but under a light-hearted and typically Finnish and stern accepting way rather than having some big emotional outburst. His output has been rarer over the last decade but he is finally back with Fallen Leaves.In Fallen Leaves, two lonely people, Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) meet by chance and fate throws some obstacles in their ways in their path to happiness, from losing each other's phone numbers to actually not knowing each other's names!
In the current era where only those from privileged backgrounds can ever aspire to becoming filmmakers, it is so refreshing to have the Finnish director and his working class roots showing all these dour middle class social tourists how it is done. Never one to dwell on misery but not falling into the trap of idealised (or worse, whimsical!) representation, he has a great talent to signify his characters' trials with much subtlety and restraint.
When Ansa invites Holappa over her place for dinner for the first time, we see her silently realise that her kitchen equipment only comprises of one plate and set of cutlery, a detail that is not hilarious but so deeply sad too. No long conversations about her long standing loneliness with a trusted friend, with that element alone the director manages to say so much with so little. Similarly, Holappa's alcoholism is not dwelled upon but neither is it represented in the usual dramatic we are accustomed to.
Similarly, his images are stylised but not overtly so and eschewing the usual drab poverty aesthetic, conjuring up some wonderful compositions that are always at the service of his story. Aki Kaurismaki also allows himself a tribute to cinema within this story and it works, never coming across as indulgent even as he references one of his fellow directors he is close to in the most amusing way, with a particular scene in which two cinema-goers discuss what they have just seen in the most pretentious way, a moment that had the audience howl with laughter.
Aki Kaurismaki is so quintessentially him and yet it still feels new with a crowd-pleasing (meant in a good way), charming and affecting film.
Review by Laurent de Alberti
Star rating: ★★★★★
Official Selection, in Competition.
Fallen Leaves. Directed by Aki Kaurismaki. Starring Alma Pöysti, Jussi Vatanen...