While watching Fallen Leaves, I realized that most romantic movies don’t really bother about the world, society, and everything that’s happening other than the central romance. Not that they have to, and it’s not at all mandatory. However, Fallen Leaves is helmed by the legendary Aki Kaurismäki, who has been making a very particular kind of film where you get to see the struggle that the working class of Helsinki goes through in a very minimalistic, deadpan style. In Kaurismäki’s films, the camera doesn’t usually move. The people move away from the screen, and sometimes you only get to hear the consequences. The stories are told in a very casual, absolutely non-blockbuster fashion. Yet, the impact is felt throughout, and more often than not, these films are very relatable. Like most Kaurismäki films, the characters in Fallen Leaves are also the kind of people you probably see every day but never pay attention to. So, a construction worker falling for a supermarket employee is a very real thing in this world. It just doesn’t happen to be something we see on 70 mm very often. Needless to say, it makes all the sense in the world that Fallen Leaves is the official Finnish entry for the upcoming Oscars, and it has rightfully got shortlisted into the top fifteen as well.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Movie?
Life is a mix of misery and mundanity for supermarket worker Ansa. Her job doesn’t pay enough; she often has to live on expired food that she steals from her work, and there’s nothing particularly exciting on the horizon. The time period is not exactly clear, although what we hear on the radio indicates that the story is set during the very recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.
How Does Ansa Meet Holappa?
Cynical construction worker Holappa’s life is as mundane as Ansa’s. Thanks to his recurring drinking problem, he keeps getting fired from most of his jobs—not that it bothers him. The man appears to have given up on life. Naturally, the only place Ansa could have met Holappa was at a karaoke bar. The two don’t talk to each other, though. Holappa’s karaoke enthusiast friend sort of makes a flirty move at Ansa’s colleague, and that’s about it. She comes across Holappa again, this time right beside the road where he has passed out. Ansa does consider helping the man out, but ultimately chooses not to do anything and takes the tram to her home.
Why Does Holappa Ask Ansa Out?
There’s no reason he wouldn’t. People can fall for people in the most unlikely of situations, and this story is about these two developing a thing for each other at a time when the world around them is in a state of despair. It was inevitable that Ansa would lose her job one day after getting caught stealing. She does find another one at a bar, but the manager turns out to be a shady criminal and gets arrested. As fate would have it, Holappa frequents the same bar, and he just happens to be there at the very moment the whole drama is going on. With no job (and no money), Ansa has no reason to say “no” to Holappa when he casually asks her out for a coffee. And when he shows concern about Ansa being hungry thanks to her job-related struggle, it clearly seems like the man actually cares.
In the grim world of Kaurismäki movies, there’s no space for grand romantic developments—unless you consider Ansa and Holappa bonding over not finding Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die” funny at their movie date. I thought that’s a great way for Kaurismäki to pay homage to Jarmusch, who’s a filmmaking inspiration for Kaurismäki and even did a cameo once in one of the earlier movies of the director. Anyway, the night ends with the two of them parting ways, but with Ansa leaving a peck on Holappa’s cheek and her number on a piece of paper. Sadly, though, Holappa manages to lose the paper. He would eventually manage to find Ansa, but here’s one interesting thing: Given the political climate and also the reference to “The Dead Don’t Die,” it can be concluded that Fallen Leaves is a story for our generation. Yet, the world we see here looks like the seventies—a time when finding people without a phone number was very much a difficulty. Neither Ansa nor Holappa using a cellphone could be either both of them not being able to afford it thanks to their financial state or just not needing it. I felt this aspect added an extra layer of intrigue to the otherwise deadpan thing and made the whole experience better.
Not being able to call Ansa, Holappa uses the only logical technique that one would use in a situation like this: going back to the same place where he last saw her again and again, which is of course outside of the cinema hall. In case you haven’t noticed, we do see a lot of posters outside the cinema hall, and most of the films are fictional. Holappa finding his way back to Ansa was only a matter of time, and when that finally happened, the two of them couldn’t be happier. Ansa gleefully invites Holappa for dinner at her place. Everything is going fine until she politely mentions that she is not too fond of his drinking habit, as she bears the trauma of coming from an entirely alcoholic family. But men are always stupid in every world, real or fictional, and Holappa does exactly what he shouldn’t have done—leaving, as he is not a man to be told what to do.
Do Ansa And Holappa Reconcile?
The whole point of Fallen Leaves was bringing these two people together, and it wouldn’t have made any sense if that hadn’t happened by the end. So Holappa realized his “male ego” was always going to end up standing in the way of the only possible form of happiness in his life. And the story does go that way, as it takes a few more instances of him getting fired from various odd jobs and a gallon of alcohol for him to realize his life doesn’t really have much value if there’s no Ansa in it. So, the man straightens himself out, starts going to AA meetings, and only after that does he muster the courage to call Ansa. She is understandably mad at him, but she also can’t wait to see him again. After all, the man has literally changed his way of life, only for her. But this is a tragicomedy after all, so instead of finally meeting Ansa, Holappa meets a freak accident and ends up in a coma.
What Does The Ending Mean?
The term “fallen leaves” signifies people who are down and out and abandon all their hopes in this life. Despite the utterly bleak setting of the story, this is actually a story of hope and positivity. In the world we live in, there are so many Ansas and Holappas who never really find love and die alone. Nobody cares about them either. Considering that, these two falling in love at a time when the world is in turmoil is one of the most hopeful messages we could have received. That’s why Holappa waking up from coma and seeing Ansa reading beside his hospital day is the image that we’re all going to carry from Fallen Leaves. What’s even sweeter is Ansa adopting a stray dog, who was going to be euthanized if no one had come forward to take care of her. In the final scene of Fallen Leaves, Holappa, fresh out of a coma, walks with Ansa, hand in hand, with the dog “Chaplin” beside them. Are the three going to end up happily ever after? We can’t know for sure, but given that Kaurismäki has decided to leave us at that, who are we to say they wouldn’t?