Fallen Leaves

Reviewed by Ian Payne

The stereotypical image of Finland as a country of hard drinking depressives was in part reinforced by the portrayal of characters in the delightfully quirky Fallen Leaves. Other impressions of Nordic life – clean, modern cities and wrap-around welfare support did not survive the comparison.

Set in the early days of the invasion of Ukraine by Finland's neighbour, radio news bulletins give a sombre backdrop to the story of Ansa and Holappa.

Ansa worked as a low-paid supermarket assistant, summarily fired for taking home an out-of-date sandwich. Holappa worked as a sandblaster in a railway yard, summarily (and rightly) fired for drinking on the job. He drinks, he says, because he is depressed but because he is depressed, he drinks.

Both are loners, both are lonely. They meet, but don't talk, at a karaoke bar but there is an obvious spark. A chance encounter when Ansa is at her lowest ebb breaks the ice and is the start of an on-off relationship that is more off than on.

What could have been a grim and unremittingly depressing story is leavened by Director Aki Kaurismäki's dry wit and a number of scenes that challenge expectations - patrons of the karaoke bar singing everything from heavy metal to Schubert’s Lieder for example – and put all kinds of obstacles in the way of Ansa and Holappa’s relationship. Nonetheless that relationship is something that they can both cling onto, a feeling of hope.

The end result of this slightly surreal film, (made even more so for me by the fact that Holappa was a dead-ringer for the Australian fast bowler, Glenn McGrath), filled with movie references and an inspired soundtrack, was a mixed review from the Keswick audience. Perhaps it was the lack of daylight.