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“Timing Is Everything” — Alma Pöysti And Jussi Vatanen Talk Fallen Leaves

5 min read
Fallen Leaves

The “tragicomedy” is something that should be catnip to British audiences, and thanks to the Finnish , what we already think of the genre is about to be subverted. Ansa, a single woman, lives and works in a supermarket in Helsinki. One night she meets Holappa, an equally lonely and alcohol-dependent worker.

Director Aki Kaurismäki's latest film faithfully shines a line on the subjects he never lets go of — FILMHOUNDS caught up with stars Alma Pöysti And Jussi Vatanen to talk about love, bravery, and humour.

 

It's incredibly unsurprising that Fallen Leaves has had such a great reception. Because it's part of an ongoing series looking at the working classes and a wider social picture, do you have an awareness of that when you go into a project like this?

Alma Pöysti: Being a part of society, I think you have to be aware of it. It's in our time and it's very close to us. It doesn't feel like something you need to study all that much because it's so *there*.

Jussi Vatanen: In the case of Aki Kaurismäki's films, it's a very common matter. He's been a household filmmaker in Finland for almost 40 years, and we've been growing up under the influence of his movies. It would have been hard if it was about something else. He's not doing movies about successful people, but he has this ability to look at the ‘smaller' people in our society on our level. He's not looking down at them, he's not trying to show them as big heroes.

 

So many films we're seeing now explore these big fantasy worlds and project these enormous ideals and values that are never quite realistic, in different ways. As actors, does interest lie in everyday lives?

AP: I usually think of the roles I get to play first as people. I need to get to know and earn their trust, and hopefully, the role and I will become such good friends — the role will share their secrets with me. I have to treat the role with respect and be curious about it. If I'm looking down on the one I'm supposed to portray, then I will end up with a cliché. It can be a mass murderer or it can be a nurse, but you have to have the same respect for the human being and try to find the core of the role. What's driving them? What are they fearful of? What do they desire?

JV: It was great to read the script for the first time. It was very touching and funny simultaneously — there was never any doubt over whether I wanted to do it because it was so clear that I wanted to be part of this. Aki's a very good writer and the script was full of punch lines, and that was something new.

 

How would you describe the Finnish sense of humour?

AP:  The charisma and humour in Fallen Leaves are very Finnish. But then there is the twist that Aki brings to it — we're calling him the “sensei of one-liners.” The man has a brilliant mind, intelligent in the way he gets a detail on something and turns it into something really fun.

JV: I think Aki has made this observation that there's something different between people being together in Finland and being together abroad. In Finnish culture is it's it's quite normal to be silent in the company of your friend. That's not the case in other cultures and other languages because people are talking constantly. For us, we can share a silent moment and there's nothing weird about it. I think Aki has made silent language a part of his toolkit and part of his career. In a way, it's something different. He uses it very shrewdly, and very beautifully.

 

With both of your characters, there is a lot simmering under the surface. What were your favourite elements of each of your characters? 

AP: I think the answer is, in a way, that she's [Ansa] terrified of love, or someone coming around messing with her independence. I think she has a sense of pride in that way — that she can handle life even though she hates her jobs, she takes pride in paying her bills. But she doesn't have very good experiences in love. To fall in love takes a huge amount of courage and then when she does, it's kind of this ‘destiny' moment when their paths cross. After that, there is no turning back. She has to somehow face that and embrace it. I admire that she actually manages to take that risk of changing her life.

JV: I guess both of our characters are in similar circumstances in their lives. Holappa is this solitary, tough guy — or at least he tells himself that he doesn't need anybody. When he finds the possibility of true love or something warm in his life, he has to make the decision. Do I want to give up my tough guy image and admit that I want somebody in my life? That's quite interesting for me as an actor. And that's something you can relate to because it's terrifying to let love in.

 

I read something not too long ago about you [Alma] saying that this film is a look at baggage and loneliness. Do you think there's you know we look at that enough — especially later in life?

AP: Isn't it? All of the faces that you pass by in this movie, they all tell a story about where people are coming from and what they're hoping for. Everybody is there supporting the same story from different angles. I think Fallen Leaves is actually telling like 100 stories of loneliness at the same time.

JV: It's relieving for the audience that there is this element of comedy at the same time. You're not only depressed with the loneliness you get those moments of relief.

AP: And there's a lot of complexity. It's basically a tragic-comedy. Very romantic.

 

Do you think we meet people by chance? 

AP: Oh, we do. There's nothing by chance, in a way. Timing is everything.

JV: That's a good question. I guess we might meet people by chance. But are we in a state of mind where we are prepared and need people? That's another question. If you're not open to it, it goes by.

AP: I guess the hope is because the possibilities are there. How you act on it is up to you.

 

Fallen Leaves is in cinemas from December 1, 2023.