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Thursday 30 November 2023

Burl reviews Fallen Leaves! (2023)


Ha ha and hello again everybody! I sure am sorry I’ve been such a no-show lately – I’m working on a book, and that always eats into my movie reviewing time and energy! I’ve still been watching plenty of movies though, many of them great candidates for review! There’s a bit of a backlog and I’m not sure I’ll ever get to them, so for now I’ll just review a picture I saw with friends and family the other afternoon at the local arthouse! It was a fine outing, the more so because the movie was the latest Aki Kaurismäki picture, Fallen Leaves!

Ha ha, as a person of mostly Nordic blood, I’ve always enjoyed deadpan Scandinavian movies, and I’ll say right off the hop that this one was a real delight! I used to watch Kaurismäki joints with my pal Pellonpäa, who is so nicknamed because of his undying love for the great bohemian and excellent actor Matti Pellonpäa! Unfortunately Pellonpäa (the real one, not my friend) died a long time ago, so he couldn’t be in Fallen Leaves! But we sure enjoyed him way back when in the Leningrad Cowboy movies and Night on Earth, and best of all in La vie de bohème, in which he played the role he was born for: a bohemian! After all, in real life he had no home – he lived in a car and a big booth at his favourite Helsinki bar, and that’s a pretty boho situation right there!

So there’s no Pellonpäa in Fallen Leaves, but there are some pretty acceptable substitutes! Our story revolves around two lonely, quiet, early-middle aged people in Helsinki! Ha ha, they’re taciturn in the great Finnish tradition, and because this is part of a series of Kaurismäki pictures set amongst the proletariat, they work a series of menial service or industrial jobs from which they keep getting fired or otherwise becoming unemployed!

We meet Ansa, who looks uncannily like my friend Mary and is played by Alma Pöysti, as she toils in a bleak supermarket under the close and creepy gaze of a monstrous security guard! She lives in a lonely apartment and whenever she turns on the radio it plays dire news of the war in Ukraine! And across the city is lank-haired, ghost-moustached Raunio, who drinks a lot, lives in a shipping container with four other dudes, works some kind of compressor-based job while wearing a thick boiler suit, and is played by Martti Suosalo!

These two lonely folkünn first spy one another at a charming karaoke night, where the show is stolen by Raunio’s buddy Huotari! There are some further mutual (or not mutual) sightings, and then finally they go on a date to see a movie: none other than the Jim Jarmusch zombie feature The Dead Don’t Die! Ha ha! This occasions a few funny cinéaste gags in which the movie is compared to a Bresson film and also to Godard’s Bande à part!

But (in a plot mechanism that rings a little false, I must say), the two never get around to telling each other their names, so when Raunio immediately loses Ansa’s phone number he’s unable to find her, and true love must wait! Then when they reconnect it must wait again thanks to Raunio’s devotion to the demon alcohol! And at the last, once the bottom has been reached and rebounded from, and it looks like the two will finally get together, fate intervenes yet again in a slightly unlikely cliché that is depicted in perhaps the laziest, most clichéd and most rote way possible!

But ha ha that’s completely forgivable, because Kaurismäki’s hand is so steady on the wheel that we know it must all be by careful design! The same goes for the cute dog which is introduced in the final act of the film – there’s nothing lazier than tossing in a cute dog to win the hearts of the audience, but here we don’t care because the dog underplays his part in just the same stoic manner as the rest of the cast, and is genuinely charming and hilarious as a result!

There are other on-screen charmers too – ha ha, I thought Huotari, the buddy, was a heck of a fellow, and he reminded me of some real-life people I know! Ansa has a nice friend too! The picture was shot on real celluloid film, so it looks very nice, and, typically of Kaurismäki, thanks to the locations, sets, props and costumes, it seems as though it could be taking place any time between the 1950s and now; although of course there are such modern touches as cell phones, karaoke, and the war in Ukraine, so we know it’s set in the now!

It’s a feel-good sort of movie without any of the laboured heart-tugging that phrase usually bespeaks! It’s slight, but it’s simple in the best ways, and as a date picture you could do much, much, much worse! I say that if you get a chance to see it in a little arthouse cinema like I did, take that chance! I give Fallen Leaves three and a half expired sandwiches, and will try to be a bit better with my movie reviewing in the future! But if I’m slow with it, at least you know why! Ha ha!