Aki Kaurismaki’s minimalistic style shines through Fallen Leaves. The limited dialogues are effective enough to pull off the deadpan humor that has come to define Kaurismaki films. His camera focuses on the ones neglected by society—the countless nameless daily wage workers. Kauriskmaki’s social commentary is presented in the form of a romantic comedy. The will-they-won’t-they question is continuously teased with missed opportunities.
Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
The banal existence of our subjects is captured through their mundane activities. Ansa worked at a supermarket and performed her routine job. The unflattering lighting with a pop of color sets a grim tone that complements Ansa’s feelings towards her job. The guard keeping a close watch on Ansa is the only element in the scene that sticks out and foreshadows a future event. On the other hand, Holappa is an alcoholic construction worker who struggles to keep his job. It is the coming together of these two disgruntled human beings at a hopeless time with a war unfolding in the background that Fallen Leaves aims to capture. Love happens to be their only ray of hope in a world that has chosen to ignore them and abandon them of basic necessities.
Is The Film set in the present time?
Kauriskmaki’s aesthetic preserves the retro. Visually, the world of Ansa and Holappa in Fallen Leaves seems to have been stuck in time. While the world has evolved, it has not affected our subjects or benefited them in any way, for that matter. Ansa’s device of entertainment still happens to be an analog radio. It is through the radio that we are constantly reminded of the Russia-Ukraine war. The news confirms that the story is unfolding at present. Listening to the news of the war on the radio also evokes memories of images from the past. The radio has been a trusted source throughout history, be it when it comes to updating its listeners about war declarations or hard-earned independence. The world has evolved, but war goes on. The radio continues to bring news of war, and its frustrated listeners shuffle channels and opt for music to calm their nerves. Aki Kauriskmaki prefers to keep his world devoid of digital devices. Ansa and Holappa still rely on the telephone to communicate and handwritten messages to share information. The lack of a digital presence results in confusion and intrigue. There would have been a severe lack of emotion in the story had our subjects been any different. It, in a way, reminds the audience what the digital world has taken away from us.
What keeps Ansa and Holappa apart?
Both Ansa and Holappa had given up all expectations from life. Their unrewarding jobs and their living conditions barely gave them any reason to be hopeful. As a construction worker, Holappa was regularly exposed to silica, and he believed he would die of silicosis very soon, giving him all the more reasons to smoke during small breaks at work. His friend, Huotari, convinced him to join him for a karaoke night. Ansa and her friend were seated next to Huotari and Holappa. Liisa and Huotari indulge in a conversation. Holappa stared at Ansa while she sipped her drink. Their eyes met, and even though words were not spoken, there was a spark between the two.
Ansa was caught handing over expired items from the supermarket to the deprived. The guard informed the manager, and Ansa was brought in for questioning. Her colleagues stood by her and supported her. At that moment, Ansa did not care about losing her job as much as she did about protecting her dignity. She worked on a zero-hour contract, and she believed she had nothing left to lose anymore. Ansa walked away from the job, and she was once again unemployed and desperate for a new gig. Holappa repeatedly lost jobs for drinking during work hours. It was a vicious cycle—he became an alcoholic as a result of all the poorly paying jobs that made him feel depressed, and eventually, his addiction became the reason behind his depression. Ansa and Holappa’s paths crossed after Ansa took a job at a local bar. She recognized the familiar face and watched him sleep at the bus stop.
The next morning, Ansa lost her job again after her employee was arrested by the police for selling drugs. The only sliver of hope was Holappa. He watched the arrest and ended up asking Ansa out on a coffee date. They barely knew each other, but the experiences they lived through were similar, and that brought them together. After watching Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, it was time for them to bid goodbye. Before leaving, Ansa wrote down her number. They realized they did not know each other’s names, and that became all the more reason for them to meet again. As luck would have it, Holappa lost Ansa’s phone number, and he spent the next few days waiting outside the cinema hall hoping to meet her again. Ansa did the same, but their paths did not cross. Days passed, but they did not give up hope of seeing each other, and one evening, they finally met again.
Did Ansa and Holappa end up together?
With a little bottle of sparkling wine and a salad to pair it with, Ansa and Holappa’s dinner date went as planned. She was hopeful about the possibility of a romantic relationship, but there was something that bothered her. Ansa’s father was an alcoholic, and she had seen how addiction could destroy a family. So, when she caught Holappa sneakily drinking from his hip flask, she decided to discuss her past. She made it clear that she detested alcohol addiction, and instead of promising to work on himself, Holappa allowed his ego to shine. He left, stating that he did not like to be told what to do. Ansa discarded the plate Holappa ate, indicating that she had lost hope in the romantic possibility. She expected an apology, but he never contacted her, and she wondered if he was like all the men she had dated before. The possibility of finding a man who would care had kept her going through her menial job, but even that was taken away from her. Ansa decided to fill her void by adopting a dog who was about to be euthanized. The dog helped her cope with her present situation and brought immense joy. Meanwhile, Holappa realized he would never be able to escape the vicious cycle if he did not make an effort. He got rid of the bottles in his room, and he decided to become better for the sake of love.
At the end of Fallen Leaves, Ansa receives a call from Holappa. He informed her about all the steps he had taken to overcome his addiction, and Ansa was ready to accept him all over again. They decided to meet immediately, but once again, luck did not favor them, and Holappa met with an accident. Ansa later ran into Huotari and found out about the accident. Strangely enough, neither Ansa nor Huotari knew the man’s full name. Ansa spent days visiting Holappa at the hospital in the hopes that he would one day wake up. She breathed an air of relief and had a smile on her face when she was informed that Holappa was finally awake. Ansa arrived at the hospital room with her dog and kissed Holappa on the forehead. Even in his dreams, he saw Ansa, and they walked together to the registry office. Holappa was soon discharged from the hospital, and Ansa and her dog patiently waited for him outside. As the two walked side by side, Holappa asked Ansa the name of her dog, and she replied, “Chaplin.”
Fallen Leaves‘ ending is heartwarming, with the lovers finding hope in a rather hopeless circumstance. A series of coincidences ultimately resulted in them finding love. The name of the dog is an homage to the working-class hero, who is not only remembered for slapstick comedy but also for his pro-worker stance. Although vastly different in style, it is the laughter derived from grim reality while also making social commentary that is an unmissable commonality between Fallen Leaves and Chaplin’s work.