Maintaining his focus on the lives of Finland’s working class, writer-director Aki Kaurismäki provides a pleasantly low-key, sort-of rom-com with Fallen Leaves, which made it to the Oscar’s official short list for international feature nominees. Ignoring many genre cliches, Kaurismäki puts his potential lovers into a world with as much glamor as pencil lead. As Ansa, Golden Globe nominee Alma Pöysti first works at a supermarket before officious rules make her turn to more menial labor. Playing her potential suitor named Holappa, Jussi Vatanen handles factory work—badly as it turns out since he likes to knock back a few shots of alcohol. Both desperately lonely, the two meet—not cute, just meet. This simplicity suits the writer-director’s reputation. Considered Finland’s top filmmaker from his background that includes projects exploring social issues, Kaurismäki guides Fallen Leaves with carefully considered shots that keep a modern touch while tipping a hat to well-established romantic classics like Brief Encounter. Bending to a bit of rom-com criteria, Kaurismäki throws a series of farcical mistakes and miscommunications at the couple, none of which reflect a bright, cheery world full of promise. But as presented by likeable actors, both characters deserve that better world. Following their path slowly—leisurely to phrase
it more nicely--Fallen Leaves drops its couple into a place that includes hope and makes for an oddly nice film, one that mixes grim reality with optimistic acceptance.