de facto film reviews 3 stars

Perhaps Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki’s (The Man Without a Past, Le Havre) simplest film of his 40-year career, an amusing and bittersweet seriocomedy, Fallen Leaves breaks no ground; it’s executed like his other films, but it still achieves a lot of poignancy with its screwball comedic and melancholic approach. By merging the artifice with modern commentary, Kaurismäki uses his deadpan approach and tone with backdrops of radio news coverage and Russian-Ukrainian war coverage going on in the background.

We are introduced to the film’s main protagonist, Ansa (Alma Poysti), a single woman who lives and works in a grocery store in modern-day Helinski. She was let go of her job after getting caught stealing expired food items that were set to go bad. She ends up countering Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), who is also let go from jobs due to his dependence on alcohol. He was let go of multiple jobs after his supervisors caught him drinking on the job. They both form a slight romance after meeting at a karaoke bar, and they end up going to the movies together to see Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die (which is ironic considering both filmmakers have been compared together), and Ansa ends up giving Holappa her phone number outside a retro art house movie theater that is draped with old movie posters of iconic movie posters (Contempt, L’Argent, Pierrot Le Fou).

Fallen Leaves by Aki Kaurismäki - Institut finlandais Courtesy Mubi

Alma walks away, and Holappa puts her number in his jacket, only for it to fall out when he goes for a drink. Of course, they are both shy around each other and never tell each other their names. Like a melancholic romance in a Wong Kai-Wai film, they both long for each other as Alma awaits a phone call and Holappa goes back to the movie theater each night in hopes she sees another movie again. Of course, they reencounter, and Alma invites him over for dinner. They are both shy and socially awkward. In a very sweet scene, Alma buys an extra dinner plate to emphasize her loneliness. She buys a small bottle of champagne, and sure enough, Holappa downs the drink. While she is cleaning up, she catches him sneaking a drink from the flask in his coat. She confronts him, and he says that he doesn’t want to be controlled.

As his life falls apart, he ends up giving up drinking, and the universe ends up testing their love once again in the most bizarre and trying circumstances. Here, just like the romance on display in The Man Without a Past and Drifting Cloud, Kaurismäki’s highly artificial style doesn’t get in the way of the character picture, rendering the film more charming than precious. Despite visual repetitions, Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen both deliver sweet chemistry together that humanizes their characters and flaws. They deliver charming impressions with their understated performances, and you can’t help but feel resonance with their scenes together. While the film has all the makings of a screwball romance, Kaurismäki holds a genuine approach to his latest film, avoiding contrivances and cynicism. His rich visual style and insights into his characters give it enough bliss that lifts it out of routine cliches.

Fallen Leaves is now playing in limited theaters. It will be playing at the Detroit Film Theater Saturday, December 16th and Sunday December 17th, 2023. For tickets and showtimes please visit Fallen Leaves | Detroit Institute of Arts Museum (