In ‘Fallen Leaves’, Aki Kaurismäki seems to have made his own version of ‘City Lights’, by Charlie Chaplinfiltered by the echoes of the war in the Ukraine and with the everlasting problems of the proletarian class that the Finnish filmmaker portrays with such commitment and sensitivity in each of his films.
Presented here in Cannes, his new work after ‘The Other Side of Hope’ (2017) continues with the usual patterns of the filmmaker, of the minimalist gesture bressonianno to the vibrant colors of Douglas Sirk’s melodramas. It doesn’t matter if what we see on the screen goes back to the usual, because Kaurismäki’s cinema continues to excite film after filmthanks, above all, to his faith in the healing power and magic of the big screen.
For this reason, although the leading couple in ‘Fallen Leaves’ meet at karaoke, it is precisely in a movie theater where falling in love is forged. She chains precarious and low-skilled jobs; he has been fired from her for his drinking addiction. They are two wandering and declassed spirits whose horizon would be marked forever by misfortune if it weren’t for the fact that they live in a Kaurismäki film.
‘Fallen Leaves’: the sublimated minimalist melodrama
For that first date between Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), the Finn could have chosen one of the various works by Bresson, Godard or Visconti that appear as posters throughout his film, but he prefers to throw a joke at Jim Jarmusch and incidentally at the viewers. Cinephilia, he tells us, is not only vindicating the works of the past, but also enjoying the cinema of the present without prejudice (in this case, ‘The dead don’t die’, which coincidentally opened Cannes in 2019).
even so, Kaurismaki continues to defend his affiliation with the film triad formed by Chaplin, Bresson and Yasujiro Ozu and with totems of romantic melodrama like Frank Borzage or Leo McCarey. Everything, of course, reformulated through the style marks of his cinema: laconic dialogues, color as an expressive vehicle, once again by Timo Salminen, and the interpretation of contained gestures.
Also in ‘Fallen Leaves’ that urban loneliness portrayed by Edward Hopper, one of the clearest pictorial influences of the Finnish, capable of translating the melancholy of the protagonist into truly beautiful prints. In parallel, the film also invokes passages from the Finn’s own filmography, from ‘passing clouds’ (1996) to’A man without a past (2002).
“Tough Guys Don’t Sing”
The music in the cinema of Aki Kaurismäki is another of the brands of the house, inseparable from his condition as film author.and in ‘Fallen Leaves’ it not only forms the meeting scene for the protagonists, but also gives us two iconic scenes.
First, the jab that Holappa throws at his friend when he suggests going to have a good time at karaoke. “Tough guys don’t sing,” she blurts out. Second, the indispensable live performance that always appears in Finnish cinema, that for the occasion recovers the band maustetytöt, formed by the sisters Anna and Kaisa Karjalainen and one of the most celebrated groups in Finland today. It’s going to be hard to remember its title, but the scene where ‘Syntynyt suruun ja puettu pettymyksin’ plays is unforgettable.
Lastly, and in line with the optimism of veteran Nanni Moretti, also present in the official section of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, Aki Kaurismäki also believes that, despite the darkness through which the world is currently advancing, there is still there is room for tenderness and love.
His position could be accused of being naïve, but how can one not be moved by these beautiful characters who, despite being conditioned by a system that does everything possible to reduce their existence, they keep falling in love, getting excitedresisting together the ups and downs of an unfortunate present?
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