Fallen Leaves - When the night is never complete. GAIFF CRITICS WORKSHOP REVIEW

Deceptively simple, short exchanges; a penchant for empty shots (a nod to Ozu) and shades of poetic realism (à la Carné); characters who never look at the camera (like Bresson’s) but are marooned in a lonely place, Helsinki; all of it shot, as always, on 35 mm. A Chaplin-esque fairytale, Aki Kaurismaki’s Fallen Leaves follows two lonely souls: supermarket cashier Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and alcoholic metalworker Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), as they drift in and out of each other’s lives in a film that doubles as another instalment of the director’s Proletariat Trilogy.

Both thematically and stylistically, Fallen Leaves is a jigsaw puzzle, a film that brings together all the pieces and details that make the director's films instantly recognisable: lower-income and laconic drifters, a soundtrack drawing from different musical genres, deadpan humor. Kaurismaki conjures a world that matches utter desolation and hopelessness with black comedy and a contagious cinephilia (references to the world of movies loom large: there’s a dog named Chaplin, countless posters of old classics, and a few dates at the local theatre). Karaoke bars once again prove Kaurismaki’s essential setting: sad Finnish ballads and rock songs echo Ansa and Holappa’s own loneliness, their faces always unsmiling, like Buster Keaton’s. But their unexpected encounter is like a glimmer of hope amid all the darkness.

Indeed, the film’s heartwarming finale makes for a hopeful contrast with the news of the war on Ukraine constantly ricocheting from Ansa’s radio. It’s as if Fallen Leaves were a cinematic translation of Paul Eulard’s poem “The Night Is Never Complete” and its life-affirming final verses: “After grief an open window / A lighted window."

Nini Shvelidze