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Fallen Leaves — Aki Kaurismäki

Updated: Mar 10

Words by Sophie Young

Cinecity is the Brighton film festival running from November 10th - 19th best known for featuring film previews, international films, live cinema, and locally-made works, particularly highlighting film which is often passed up in favour of big blockbusters.

Fallen Leaves surprised me in the best possible way, with deadpan humour, contemporary political commentary, and unexpected sweetness. Ansa (Alma Pöysti) is a supermarket employee who is fired for stealing expired food which would otherwise be thrown away, and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) is an alcoholic labourer who secretly stashes bottles at his metalworking job. Both characters barely manage to keep their heads above water in exhausting, unstable jobs, and find an escape from the soul-crushing mundanity of work through karaoke, local bars, friends, and each other. Their relationship is strikingly sweet against a backdrop of unforgiving poverty and the instability of being working class in Finland during Russia’s war on Ukraine as political tensions loom over the country.

Ansa and Holappa are so enamoured with each other that after their first date Holappa says with an ironic earnestness to Huotari that they “almost got married.” Their relationship is not without blunders, tragedy, and an almost comedic sequence of unfortunate events, but their prevailing connection is a spark of hope amid the bleak relentlessness of living under capitalism.

Kaurismäki’s characteristic deadpan humour shines through in almost every character, but the biggest laughs from the audience by far came with Huotari’s expressionless one liners. After Holappa refers to himself as a tough guy, Huotari - evidently disagreeing - replies, “maybe in Denmark”. When hitting on a woman after his karaoke set, Huotari preens and glows as she compliments his singing voice, until she goes on to say his voice is so well preserved for the elderly.

The soundtrack is not to be overlooked, with picks from Tchaikovsky’s Sinfonia n.6, to Get On by the rock band Hurriganes, to indie pop duo Maustetytöt’s Syntynyt suruun ja puettu pettymyksin which perfectly encapsulates the feeling of Fallen Leaves - Antti Luukkanen describes their songs as containing “everyday realism and the glamour of downright misery”* (Luukkanen, Antti). Even if you don’t get the chance to watch Fallen Leaves, checking out Maustetytöt on Spotify is definitely worth it (a slightly biased take since it’s the first thing I did on my train ride home).

Watching Fallen Leaves was a wonderful introduction to Cinecity for me and I was grateful for the chance to see it at Duke of York’s, which hosts a number of other Cinecity picks this November alongside venues like Dead Wax Social, and the university’s own ACCA. I think Fallen Leaves was a great pick for the beginning of Cinecity, and if nothing else, I feel a lot more compelled to watch some more Kaurismäki films.

Extended reading: Luukkanen, Antti. ‘Tarkkailuluokka | Maustetytöt: Kauniisti kurjuudesta’. Soundi. 07.02.2019. <>

*Translated from Finnish to English - original quote: “arkirealismia ja suorastaan kurjuuden glamouria”.

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