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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Finnish film-maker’s sweet-natured odd-couple romance fills you with a pleasant glow and laughs even in the face of Putin’s threat to the country.
Aki Kaurismäki is the Finnish director who actually makes funny films; that is, actually-funny and not just arthouse-funny. Fallen Leaves is another of Kaurismäki’s beguiling and delightful cinephile comedies, featuring foot-tapping rock’n’roll. It’s romantic and sweet-natured, in a deadpan style that in no way undermines or ironises the emotions involved, and with some sharp things to say about contemporary politics.
Ansa (Alma Pöysti) is a woman who works in a supermarket on an exploitative zero-hours contract, and resents that part of her job is to throw away perfectly good food at the end of the day; a sullen security guard clocks her giving stuff like this to desperate hungry people, and she is fired for trying to take home an expired sandwich.
Later Ansa finds herself in a karaoke bar where she meets a construction worker called Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), and there is a heartmelting connection between these two lonely people. They go on a very successful date to the cinema, although a subsequent series of terrible mishaps means that their relationship could be doomed.
Periodically the characters will turn on the radio for the news (no one appears to have a smartphone or even a TV – the action could be happening in the early 60s); this is all about the Russian attack on Ukraine. And undoubtedly Kaurismäki intends us to realise something very specific: Finland is on the border with Russia. Fear of Putinism is not the distant matter it might be in the UK, America or even Germany. The war is clouding Finland’s sense of wellbeing, but Finns are still intent on carrying on. Fallen Leaves is a film with a big heart, and absurd and cartoony as it may be, it fills you with a feelgood glow.