Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Fallen Leaves

Coming six years after Aki Kaurismäki announced his retirement from filmmaking, Fallen Leaves feels like a return to very familiar territory. The director’s last two features were unusually explicit in their commentary on the social issues of our time, with both Le Havre (2011) and The Other Side of Hope (2017) engaging directly with Europe’s migrant crisis. Kaurismäki’s new film harkens back to the small-scale stories of ordinary Finns with which he made his reputation; in fact, it has been labelled a belated fourth instalment of his Proletariat Trilogy, which consists of Shadows in Paradise (1986), Ariel (1988) and The Match Factory Girl (1990).

That’s not to suggest Kaurismäki is turning away entirely from current events. In Fallen Leaves, every time Ansa (Alma Pöysti) switches on the radio, she hears another grim update from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a conflict that weighs heavily on the Finnish psyche thanks to the country’s shared border with Russia. The precarious state of labour rights in the modern world is also at the forefront of Kaurismäki’s thoughts here. Ansa works as a supermarket shelf-stacker until she is reprimanded for giving expired food to a homeless man and taking a microwave meal home for herself rather than throwing it into the garbage as instructed. Employed on a zero-hours contract, Ansa is summarily dismissed with no compensation – and it was perhaps serendipitous that on the same day this reviewer watched Fallen Leaves, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) began a series of strike actions in protest at the newly elected right-wing government’s proposed changes to workers’ rights and welfare benefits.