Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) – a decent, quiet man, even if a bit boozy – meets Ansa (Alma Pöysti) in the gloomy bars of Kallio and dares to fall in love, even though life keeps throwing obstacles in the way. Other characters in the story also dream of happiness, such as the karaoke king (Janne Hyytiäinen) waiting to sign a record contract at any moment but facing part-time age discrimination, or the anonymous, abandoned stray dog. Echoes of the war resonate on the radio, bellies of the working class are rumbling while they navigate the pedantic jungle of rules, and their wallets are permanently empty. And yet, human solidarity and perseverance refuse to die.
Aki Kaurismäki’s latest film is a timeless tale of love, which at the same time tackles contemporary problems with a passion. The leading humanist in European cinema once again proves his close kinship with Maestro Chaplin: The dialogue unfolds with the same playful lightness as in The Man Without a Past (2002), which delighted audiences in Cannes two decades earlier. In Fallen Leaves, every aspect of the filmmaking supports each other; from Timo Salminen’s glorious images, the soulful performances, the exquisitely rhythmic editing, the discreetly witty set design, to pertinent musical choices. Jean Renoir once tried to change the world with his art but had to admit that he was not able to end the war. Fallen Leaves – a heartfelt masterpiece by a mature auteur – belongs to that same genre of beautiful illusions. After watching it, we emerge from the darkness of the movie theatre into the northern sunlight a little happier than before.