"Fallen Leaves," which received the Jury Prize at Cannes, focuses on two lonely individuals living amidst economic struggles in Finland, who find themselves drawn to each other at first sight. Director Aki Kaurismäki, in his typical absurd style, showcases Finland's unfamiliar economic and social challenges.
Ansa and Holappa, akin to falling leaves, are two lonely blue-collar workers. Struggling with economic hardships, oppressive bosses, and a rigorous work routine, they encounter each other for the first time at a karaoke night. Contrary to general expectations, on their first date, they defy convention by opting to watch a zombie movie.
Initially, you might be undecided whether the film is a period piece, given the active use of radios and the practice of jotting down phone numbers in a notebook, which invites a blend of past and present. However, with the addition of unexpected mishaps to this nostalgic, minimalist communication, Ansa and Holappa inevitably face challenges in reaching out to each other throughout the film.
Claiming, "Tragicomedy is my genre," Aki Kaurismäki vividly portrays this in Finnish bars and dialogues in "Fallen Leaves." Bars are filled with people devoid of hope, lost in their own thoughts, and silent. Particularly in one scene, elderly individuals with long gray hair and beards starkly contrast with the upbeat tune of "Mambo Italiano" playing from the jukebox. This old-school style, combined with deadpan humour, effortlessly draws us in.
The dialogues of the characters, brief and to the point, are accompanied by songs, filling in the gaps. The music can be melancholic, depressive, hopeful, or entertaining, creating contrasts with their surroundings or blending in seamlessly.
Each time the radio is turned on, we are reminded of the destructiveness of the Ukraine-Russia war and the prevailing gloom of the environment. The director makes a poignant note with these details: "How awful the war is!"
The duo, who believe in each other and are unwilling to lose that, struggle and dare to undergo change. Considering Aki Kaurismäki's style, which addresses societal and class issues, the pair's strong attachment to each other can also be interpreted as a form of solidarity among the lower class. If our lives are composed of choices, we can say that the characters choose to enhance themselves and their love by providing hope and a reason to live with each other.
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