Director Aki Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves finds love in a hopeless place | Pittsburgh City Paper

Director Aki Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves finds love in a hopeless place

click to enlarge Director Aki Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves finds love in a hopeless place
Photo: Courtesy of Mubi
Fallen Leaves
Fallen Leaves opens with a noise that could be confused with the beeping of an EKG machine. Turns out it’s just Ansa (Alma Pöysti) scanning groceries at one of her dead-end jobs. The confusion is understandable, though; they both represent lumps of meat making it to the end of the line.

Fallen Leaves, now playing through Thu., Dec. 21 at the Harris Theater, pulls a lot of bait-and-switches like this. Its whole existence feels like one. The Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner could be described as the world’s bleakest rom-com or the happiest meditation on the pointlessness of existence. The fourth in a loose series of films from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, its style borrows from Bresson, Lynch, and Roy Andersson.

The plot, such as it is, centers around Ansa, who can’t stop getting fired because of her open contempt for any job, and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), who can’t stop getting fired because he can’t stop drinking on the job (or anywhere else, really). They both have given up on the concept that life is worth working for. They’re not suicidal per se, just accepting of the monotony and loneliness. This is until they find each other, and their lives become less than good but more than nothing.

The vision of Finland in Fallen Leaves is one of the strangest depictions of reality in a movie this year or most others. It’s not unrealistic, necessarily, as it presents the monotony of existence in all its glory. But everything in the film feels just ever-so-slightly off, due in part to the static camerawork and absurdly deadpan dialogue.

Ignoring the bummer description given thus far, Fallen Leaves is very funny, if you can find its wavelength. Finding that wavelength can feel like a tall task in a film that is aggressively not for everyone, as it subtlety works on the razor’s edge of boredom, only to pepper in scenes of, say, working-class Fins singing nationalist karaoke to enraptured bar patrons. In a moment that sums up a lot of the film’s ethos, Ansa declares, “I’ve never laughed so much,” all while never cracking a smile.

Poysti and Vatanen do much of the heavy lifting in a film that could easily fall flat if its actors aren’t selling equal parts dryness and warmth. The two leads manage to sell the despondence, sure, but they sell the hope as well. Ansa and Holappa are characters that have given in, and there’s something earnestly moving and brave about them choosing a different path. It’s not sappy or melodramatic, just regular people making small choices to see if there might be something else to that whole life thing that people say is worth living.
Fallen Leaves. Continues through Thu., Dec. 21. Harris Theater. 809 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $11.

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