The Movie Waffler New to VOD - FALLEN LEAVES | The Movie Waffler


An alcoholic and a shy woman embark on an awkward romance.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Aki Kaurismaki

Starring: Alma Pöysti, Jussi Vatanen, Janne Hyytiäinen, Nuppu Koivu

Fallen Leaves poster

You might expect a film about a shy woman in a relationship with an alcoholic man to be a gritty piece of social drama centred around domestic abuse. Were Fallen Leaves British rather than Finnish, that would almost certainly be the case. But Finland is a country filled with shy people and alcoholics, and no doubt a lot of shy alcoholics, and they aren't defined by those aspects of their personalities. In most western countries people are always being encouraged to talk more and drink less, but if we're honest, the more we drink the easier we open up.

"I drink because I'm depressed," confesses Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), the not-so-romantic male lead of Aki Kaurismaki's latest quirky comic drama. When asked why he's depressed, he replies "Because I drink." But Holappa has no intention of giving up the gargle - it's what gets him through the day. Resembling a match that's been struck too many times, Holappa works in construction, living on site with a colleague, Huotari (Janne Hyytiäinen), who is always trying to shake him out of his stupor. One night Huotari convinces Holappa to accompany him to a karaoke bar, where Huotari hits awkwardly on a woman who mocks him ruthlessly. Holappa makes a silent connection with the woman's friend, Ansa (Alma Pöysti), but neither acts upon their obvious mutual attraction.

Fallen Leaves review

Ansa (a Finnish name which translates to "trapped") lives a similarly glum existence. She's just been fired from her supermarket shelf stacking job for taking home expired food, some of which she was donating to the homeless, and a subsequent job cleaning dishes in a grim pub comes to an end when her boss is arrested for dodgy dealings. Unlike Holappa, she refuses to wallow in her tough circumstances, always immediately picking herself up from every setback.

When Ansa and Holappa finally connect, their first date goes well, in a very Finnish way with neither feeling the need to engage in much conversation. Ansa gives Holappa her phone number, but the big klutz immediately loses the piece of paper that bears her digits. The two attempt to track each other down, often comically missing each other by mere moments.

Fallen Leaves review

While it's as doleful and deadpan as any of his films, Fallen Leaves might be Kaurismaki's most accessible film to date. It has the narrative simplicity of a Chaplin short and it's the perfect entry point for those new to his distinctive aesthetic and worldview. His closest English language cousin would be Jim Jarmusch, who gets a nod here when Ansa and Holappa attend a rep house screening of The Dead Don't Die. Like those of Jarmusch, Kaurismaki's films often feature taciturn protagonists surrounded by people who talk a lot of nonsense. Both Ansa and Holappa are constantly having to listen to others rabbit on about rubbish, so it's no surprise that they feel a kinship in their silent mystery.

Of course, when they get together things don't entirely go swimmingly, with Holappa stubbornly choosing the bottle over a shot of love when Ansa makes it clear that she doesn't want to be around a sullen drunk. Like Paul Schrader's Master Gardener and David Fincher's The Killer, Kaurismaki's film is the latest 2023 movie that plays like an aging male auteur advising their core audience to put away stubborn male pride and embrace whatever woman is willing to put up with you.

Fallen Leaves review

Pöysti and Vatanen aren't the sort of actors that usually front romantic dramas. They're both attractive people but they've clearly lived, with their ups and downs carved in the wrinkles and lines of their faces. The Helsinki of Fallen Leaves is similarly battered, its walls covered with peeling movie posters and outdated trams chugging through grey streets.

When their wrinkles and lines are stretched by a smile late on, nobody in the audience will begrudge Ansa and Holappa whatever happiness they might find. With news from Ukraine providing a grim soundtrack every time Ansa turns on a radio, Fallen Leaves suggests the Finnish people may want to embrace life and love in these uncertain times.

Fallen Leaves
is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews