Saturday, September 02, 2023

Kuolleet lehdet / Fallen Leaves (third viewing, Telluride 2024, in the presence of Jussi Vatanen)

Aki Kaurismäki: Kuolleet lehdet / Fallen Leaves (FI 2023) with Jussi Vatanen and Alma Pöysti.

Made possible by a donation from Elizabeth Redleaf.
Le Pierre, Telluride Film Festival (TFF), 1 Sep 2023.
In the presence of Jussi Vatanen.

Larry Gross (TFF 2023): " For more than 30 years, Aki Kaurismäki (DRIFTING CLOUDS, LE HAVRE) has crafted lucid fables about marginalized outcasts. He’s portrayed artists, laborers and immigrants with a detached tragi-comic tenderness: these are his people. Kaurismäki’s latest, a masterful distillation of prior themes, emerges as a somber romantic comedy. The down-on-his-luck Holappa (the acclaimed actor Jussi Vatanen) and the sensitive supermarket cashier Ansa (the radiant Alma Pöysti), two quiet loners, spot each other in a bar and then go to a movie together (it’s, of all things, Jim Jarmusch’s macabre THE DEAD DON’T DIE, which Ansa considers a comedy). Accidents, alcohol and their own vulnerabilities keep them apart. Will the persistence of desire draw them back together? The cinematographer Timo Salminen, a longtime Kaurismäki collaborator, paints the film’s bars, factories and rain-drenched streets in memorably saturated colors; Pöysti’s clear-eyed, sensitive gaze takes the movie straight into our hearts. " –LG (Finland, 2023, 81 m)

Festival premiere: 23 May 2023 Cannes Film Festival.
American festival premiere: 31 Aug 2023 Telluride Film Festival.
Finnish premiere: 15 Sep 2023.

The American festival premiere of Fallen Leaves takes place at Telluride, where it is screened four times. Jussi Vatanen introduces the film with grace, dignity and humour. The venue today is Le Pierre, named after Pierre Rissient, the Grand Ambassador of cinema and a very big Aki Kaurismäki buff, as was Tom Luddy.

Also in America, Aki Kaurismäki is one of the most beloved artists of world cinema. The audience is looking forward to the new film, is highly rewarded and the movie gets great buzz. The general atmosphere is that of a happy reunion with an old friend.

As a Finn, watching this in Colorado, the experience is different from my Finnish viewings. I am observing familiar Helsinki landscapes from a foreign viewpoint. As always, the vision is the antithesis of tourist propaganda. They used to say that Kaurismäki nullifies a half a century of the efforts of the Finnish Tourist Board. Indeed, it was amusing to register at the time that guests such as Ulrich Gregor and David Bordwell were amazed that Helsinki did not look like a Kaurismäki movie.

It is also entirely beside the point. It is not the duty of an artist to create picture postcards. Although the exteriors are shot on location, they are not meant to build a city symphony. They are about a worldview and soulscape with personal and universal resonance.

I found myself observing the audience to such an extent that my personal response was delayed. Watching this film, every time I cry, triggered by the performance of the Maustetytöt duo, during which for the only time the full gravity of the undercurrent becomes explicit. 

Back in Helsinki, on Thursday 7 September 2023 (online 5 September 2023), I read from the print issue of Helsingin Sanomat an Aki Kaurismäki interview with Vesa Sirén, with the headline "Alcohol Destroyed My Life". An exceptionally candid and surprising interview.

On Monday 11 September 2023 Yle the Finnish Broadcasting Company releases an equally frank interview by Janne Sundqvist with Aki Kaurismäki.


On the third screening I realize errors in my Filmihullu review based on two screenings only. One should always see a film three times before writing a review (which is why I don't call my blog entries reviews but rough notes). There was reportedly no screener available in the summer.

Seeing Kuolleet lehdet in America I register more sharply how absolutely the Kaurismäki world is a Gegenbild, counter-image, to the notion of Finland as "the happiest country in the world". 

More profoundly, on repeated viewings it becomes clearer how Aki Kaurismäki's sonority has grown. Everything resonates more richly.


P.S. 1 Jan 2024: visiting cafés and restaurants and doing shopping I sense a new kind of quiet unrest among the staffs. Perhaps the pandemic has increased pressure. Work burdens grow while living gets harder and wages lag behind. Every day we read news reports about an increasingly obscene inequality in a world where the rich get richer and the poor ones get less and less.

And there is The Question: is there a future? Maybe Aki Kaurismäki taps into such global unrest in Fallen Leaves. As do Maustetytöt, now on an international tour.

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