“Fallen Leaves” (“Kuolleet lehdet”)


Rotten Tomatoes (2.5/5), Metacritic (5/10), Letterboxd (2.5/5), Imdb.com (5/10), TMDB.com (2.5/5)

It’s not much of a secret that the worldview of Finnish society can be more than a little bleak. At the same time, though, it also possesses an understatedly campy, eminently whimsical quality that comes in stark contrast to this otherwise-dour outlook. And this makes for a combination of traits that can be somewhat puzzling to fathom, especially to outsiders. That’s the quirky social conundrum that writer-director Aki Kaurismäki seeks to capture in his latest offering, a wry comedy-drama focused on the lives of two lonely, lovelorn working class Helsinki residents (Alma Pöysti, Jussi Vatanen) who struggle against life’s hiccups while seeking to forge a romance. But, in telling their story, the filmmaker has difficulty finding sufficient traction to engage viewers. We witness a story full of modest, garden variety ups and downs, as well as more than a few miscommunications, experiences we’ve all no doubt undergone ourselves from time to time. However, is that enough to make a compelling picture? It certainly doesn’t feel that way much of the time, given its wooden dialogue and restrained, sometimes-stilted performances, no matter how pointedly this production may portray the nature of this extraordinarily reserved people. To its credit, the film works best when it pokes fun at the nature of Finnish culture, providing some delicious nuggets of droll humor, backed by a diverse yet spot-on soundtrack that fittingly and ironically complements what’s unfolding on screen. Nevertheless, there’s so much here that lends so little to a narrative that just never catches fire that it’s hard to imagine almost anyone generating any interest in, or enthusiasm for, the protagonists and their feeble attempts at launching a relationship. Maybe I’m missing something here, but, if there is something meaningful that this release is trying to convey, it’s apparently well buried under one of those big piles of fallen leaves that give this picture its title.