Fallen Leaves

Fallen Leaves (dir. Aki Kaurismӓki)

By: Adam Freed

Some stories can connect in any era.  With his latest film, Fallen Leaves, Finnish superstar director Aki Kaurismӓki is out to prove it.  Fallen Leaves is a tonally precarious endeavor, humorously written, yet daringly close to melancholic.  It takes the careful eye of a seasoned filmmaker to craft a romantic comedy that is only romantic in a world of limited expectations and bitter isolation.  Set in the monochromatic backdrop of modern Helsinki, the deliberately simple stories of Ansa and Holappa both out of love and luck, plays nearly all of the right notes in making Kaurismӓki’s daring experiment one to remember.

In the rom com orbit, chemistry is king.  Establishing this paramount feature while using only minimalist dialogue is akin to skiing uphill.  In a world of words, employing so few, places a heightened importance on the meaning of those that do exist.  It would be nearsighted to ignore the blatant homage that Fallen Leaves pays to the silent era.  Strong hints of Charlie Chaplin heartily dot the landscape of Kaurismӓki’s film.  The ease with which the male and female leads procure and lose employment is a direct reference to Modern Times (1936), a film in which Chaplin forces audiences to gaze through the difficulty of The Great Depression and embrace that beyond the constant quest for finances and food, there is nourishment to be devoured in the very real condition of communal struggle.  Evidence of Aki Kaurismӓki’s nod to the bygone Depression era presents itself through the internal depression manifested by his character’s isolation. And like Chaplin at his best, the Finnish filmmaker cultivates  humor even in the darkest of times.  Ansa, who lives a life of solitude, is forced to purchase a second table setting in order to have Holappa come to her flat for dinner.  The cartoonish simplicity of the joke dances on the brink of sadness while earning a deserved chuckle.  

Fallen Leaves is distinctly modern yet juxtaposes this fact through continued attempts to prove it lives in a long lost era.  Every construction site Holappa visits is adding to the modernity of Helsinki’s façade, yet not one character in the film owns a cell phone.  Phone numbers and addresses are shared on paper and there are no televisions to be seen.  Ansa and Holappa visit an old time Finnish movie house yet rather than taking in a predictable European classic like  The 400 Blows (1959) they stoically screen the Adam Driver & Bill Murray absurdist zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die (2019).  The primary form of entertainment on display in the film are mid century radios that provide updates to the very current Russian invasion of Ukraine.  It is a story that knowingly distances itself from the present, yet is inescapably molded by it, a humorous conundrum to say the least. The timelessness of Aki Kaurismӓki’s choices work to highlight the brilliance of his final product.  This isn’t a film about eras, instead it emphasizes the timeless need for belonging and companionship.  Whether it is Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 walk into the sunset with Paulette Goddard or Ansa and Holappa’s modern recreation, some stories can live in any era, and Fallen Leaves is living proof.

Target Score: 7/10 - Fallen Leaves is as simple a story as those produced 100 years ago during the silent film era.  Like some of the silent giants, Aki Kaurismӓki’s film accomplishes a great deal despite its modest runtime and minimalist approach.