Filmhounds Magazine

All things film – In print and online

Fallen Leaves – Virginia Film Festival (Film Review)

3 min read
Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen)


This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

, Aki 's latest , is a sweet tragicomedy about the relationship formed between two strikingly lonely people.

The film follows Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen). Ansa works a zero-hour contract in a grocery store, and Holappa is a construction worker and is uncomfortably aware of his impending mortality. Both are rather isolated and seem unsatisfied with their current lives. 

Their lives' monotony continues as we follow them just missing one another, before they encounter each other at a karaoke bar with their friends (played by the humorous Janne Hyytiäinen and Nuppu Koivu). They don't speak during this meeting, but later officially meet and go on a date, getting coffee and going to a movie theatre. Holappa, however, loses her phone number which starts a whole new cycle of missed connections.

Fallen Leaves is an exercise in restraint. Every aspect of it holds back to give you just barely enough to process what the film is saying. The acting, the sound design, and the cinematography all work with one another to create a world stripped down to its bare essentials. Static shots and a dark colour palette emphasises the dreariness of the world the characters live in and their frustration with feeling like there's nothing they can do to change it.

Kaurismäki is a well known Finnish director, having previously made films including The Man Without a Past (2002) and Le Havre (2011). Fallen Leaves is his first film since he announced what turned out to be a brief retirement in 2017. Fallen Leaves premiered in Cannes and won the Jury Prize. It is also Finland's entry for the Best International Feature Film for the Oscars.

There's a clear political tone in Fallen Leaves. For example, nearly every time the radio is turned on, which is often, it's covering the war in Ukraine and associated Russian airstrikes. Since Finland shares a border with Russia, the war weighs heavily on the characters' minds and creates a sense of dread and uncertainty. And, as is a common theme in other Kaurismäki films, the struggles of the working class are emphasised as the characters cycle through strenuous jobs with poor working conditions.

The film also showcases a loneliness that both of the characters intimately feel, but which remains unspoken. Instead, it's shown in moments like when Ansa has to buy a plate and another set of silverware just to be able to host Holappa. The film easily could have just been a tragedy, it instead includes several comedic moments that help lighten it. 

Fallen Leaves does start out quite slowly, and takes a while to build up. That's mainly due to the early parts of the film primarily following each of the main characters individually. Once they meet, momentum begins to build more quickly., however, it becomes more engaging and it's quite easy to get invested in Ansa and Holappa's relationship.

By the end of the film, without even necessarily realising it, you'll likely realise just how invested you've become in Ansa and Holappa's relationship. Fallen Leaves will draw you in through its mastery of technique and its portrayal of the ordinary.

Fallen Leaves screened at the Virginia Film Festival and will be released in cinemas across the UK & Ireland on 1st December 2023