In modern-day Helsinki, Ansa and Holappa, two lonely souls in search of their first love, meet by chance in a local karaoke bar. However, the pair’s path to happiness is beset by numerous obstacles – from lost phone numbers to mistaken addresses, alcoholism, and a charming stray dog. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival.
“Aki Kaurismaki’s Fallen Leaves, winner of the Jury Prize, sees the Finnish filmmaker behind Le Havre and, more recently, The Other Side of Hope suggesting love as the one thing that makes life worth living in our cruel world. Capitalism rules the lives of Ansa (Alma Poysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), who lose their jobs and try to find new ones while, on the other side of the world, the Ukrainian invasion is raging on. Alcoholism, loneliness, and doubt are the results of this difficult context, but solace can be found in a few places: listening to the radio, going to the karaoke bar (a national sport in Finland), and, of course, going to the cinema. All of those things make each day more tolerable—but so does meeting someone who will do those things with you. Kaurismaki has made more overtly political films, but Fallen Leaves is the distillation of all that makes his work so powerful. Humble but playful with his usual beautifully composed images, acknowledging that answers are hard to come by but offering some respite, the filmmaker offers an optimism grounded in reality—a poetry born out of difficulty.”
“Aki Kaurismäki is the Finnish director who is notable for being not simply one of the directors who is always welcome in the Cannes competition, but also is one of the rarer subset who actually makes funny films; that is, actually-funny and not just arthouse-funny. Fallen Leaves is another of Kaurismäki’s beguiling and delightful cinephile comedies, featuring foot-tapping rock’n’roll. It’s romantic and sweet-natured, in a deadpan style that in no way undermines or ironises the emotions involved and with some sharp things to say about contemporary politics. I found myself rooting for the hero and heroine here in an uncomplicated way that I hadn’t for any other film at Cannes.”
“Fallen Leaves packs so much into just 81 minutes and so effortlessly. It is a comedy that is sweet without ever tipping into sentimentality. It is a romance between two lonely people who, for a time, appear to have no hope of finding happiness. It is a political film—an expression of solidarity with frustrated working-class employees and Ukraine, broadcasts about which are heard several times. It is, occasionally, a musical, or at least a movie in which a man sings Schubert at karaoke, and a live band performs a song with comically bleak lyrics like "even the graveyard is by fences bound." And perhaps above all, it is Kaurismäki's salute to filmmakers who have inspired him. Some (Bresson, Godard, Jarmusch) receive overt acknowledgment. Other references (a rainy window bathed in Sirkian lighting, a plot point borrowed from An Affair to Remember) have been fluidly integrated into the narrative and mise-en-scène.”
- 1Manuela Lazic, “The Best Movies From the 2023 Cannes Film Festival,” 31 May 2023 The Ringer.
- 2Peter Bradshaw, “Fallen Leaves review – deadpan Aki Kaurismäki comedy with springtime in its heart,” 22 May 2023 The Guardian.
- 3Ben Kenigsberg, “Cannes 2023: Fallen Leaves, Club Zero, Firebrand,” 23 May 2023 Roger-Ebert.com.