Director: Aki Kaurismäki Starring: Alma Pöysti, Jussi Vatanen Running Time: 81 minutes
Romance on the big screen, really any feeling, is defined by heavy flourishes, bold gestures, soaring, sweeping expressions that burst through the film, so heavy they are with feeling. It reflects how we feel, but it tends not to come out that way through the funnel of our first draft mouths, our uncinematic selves.
Aki Kaurismäki’s movies are so deadpan they could be buried six feet under, but in his latest, the straight-faced but extremely romantic and quietly funny Fallen Leaves, two lonely lovers capture each others hearts and ours while barely twitching their mouths beyond a smile, and find a Big Movie love in an unlikely fashion. They see a flop comedy by Kaurismäki’s pal Jim Jarmusch and, after taking it in silence, agree in monotone that it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. And why wouldn’t you believe them? Everything is bigger when you’re in love.
Fallen Leaves is set in modern Helsinki, but it’s characters have the classic weariness of David Lean, and the colours on screen, bright under muted lighting, are just short of Sirk. The poignant quiet, all long looks into the distance and slow, tired movement, has Ozu all over it. The love of film shines through every frame. Stars lma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen, with a sensationally understated chemistry, are the perfect midpoint between Hollywood glamour and regular inner city folk, Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling if they grew up in a country that gets dark at 3pm.
The film tells the story of Ansa (Pöysti) and Holappa (Vatanen), two lonely souls who meet at a karaoke bar and begin a very tentative, awkward, and unlucky courtship. They just can’t get it together, befalling a series of tragicomic mishaps. Behind the charming meet cute though is a much bigger barrier to their happiness – Holappa’s drinking is omnipresent and unrelenting enough to cut through the deadpan comedy, giving serious stakes to the question of what can really grow from these leaves fluttering past each other in the chilly Helsinki breeze.
A drier than dry comedic tone, in which the idea that anything special and romantic can happen at all in a world where every character is slumped and forlorn, bridges the gap perfectly between the larger than life emotions at play and the downbeat players feeling them. The film is brisk and to the point, but a very carefully selected score interjects the true feelings at play here, and between the charming Scandi-scowls and sternly firm obstacles Holappa and Ansa face is a sweet, simple and sumptuous story of two quiet people finding a ray of happiness, later and longer than they were expecting. Even Helsinki gets its sunlight after all, and in that sweet spot, great things bloom. Fallen Leaves leaves us longing that its murmuring leads figure it out and get their Hollywood ending.(4 / 5)