A woman (Alma Pöysti) meets a man (Jussi Vatanen) at a karaoke bar. Their attempts to see each other are subsequently marred by a series of unfortunate events.
This is a classic rom-com in a sense—two lonely souls looking for love try to get together in spite of everything (there’s even the classic quirky friend)—but somewhat amusingly it’s set in the grim reality of being unable to pay the bills, or find a place to live. The leads don’t actually see each other that much and the quirky friend offers no support. That doesn’t sound all that funny but there’s a cold humour to Fallen Leaves which tickled me.
It’s spartan in style, with Kaurismäki just letting his characters get on with it. There’s a little music, but no flashy montages or unlikely coincidences moving the story along. Somehow he sells the romance to us without trying to romanticise the idea of living on the breadline.
It’s far removed from a sickly sweet working class rom-com, but also doesn’t want to be a kitchen sink drama. I’m not sure it’s even set in the real world, at least not in our reality—the Ukraine war has broken out, but they are watching a 2019 film at the cinema, but they are also showing Brief Encounter, there are no smart phones, people only seem to have radios, the list goes on. It’s an analogue world where it’s plausible for two people to like each other and yet through no fault of their own, lose contact with each other.
This makes sense because it’s also a reality where a rom-com is just two people looking at each other for ages, and I loved every bit of it.