Movie Review: Fallen Leaves

Finland is a very dry country. Droll, if you will. This, at least, is the impression that writer-director Aki Kaurismäki (The Other Side of Hope) would like you to get from Fallen Leaves, the fourth film in his Proletariat trilogy. The last one was in 1990, and he claims to have retired in 2017, so you know he’s been cooking this up for a while. This is the sort of movie that you see if you enjoy two people coming together very slowly over a relatively short run time, filled with tiny delights and small victories.

Ansa (Alma Pöysti, Tove) is a supermarket worker reduced to eating expired food; Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) is an industrial site worker who drinks on the job. A couple of chance encounters between the two sparks a mutual interest between the two, but between Ansa not leaving her name and Holappa instantly losing her number, will chase ever allow them to meet again?

Fallen Leaves is a tight 81 minutes. It almost completely lacks event, and when something happens it’s so understated that you almost have to ask if it actually did. This is all part of the charm, as the dialogue is delivered in complete deadpan, declarative statements with almost no emotion backing them up. 

Near equal time is given to Ansa and Holappa, but it’s easy to think that Pöysti is the star of the movie. She is a woman without much, but she knows exactly what she wants and how much she will tolerate. Her ambitions may be small, but you want a win for her; it’s hard not to respect a woman who knows her rights and won’t allow herself to be cowed by petty tyrants.

For Vatanen’s part, he gradually makes you care about Holappa’s quiet tragedy. What is initially played for laughs eventually becomes apparent as a legitimate problem. Most importantly, when all hope seems lost for the whatever number time, you still want things to work out for him, and you want Ansa to find him again if she can.

Fallen Leaves sounds like it should be depressing by any metric, but it is actually very gently funny. Holappa’s wingman Huotari (Janne Hyytiäinen, The Other Side of Hope) has an entire sideline at karaoke where he argues with Ansa’s wingwoman Liisa (Nuppu Koivu, The Other Side of Hope) about how his face lies about his age. Holappa is accused of being four minutes late for the third time in a week by his boss, and the only retort, handily ignored, is “it’s Monday”. The way that Ansa and Holappa dance around each other is so otherworldly that you have to wonder if they’re aliens, but of course it’s not that sort of movie. It is the sort of movie that features deadly earnest karaoke delivered in multiple languages, and a repertory theatre playing the most sincerely random films.

Kaurismäki litters the film with rituals and signifiers that mean everything and nothing, and highlights the drudgery of piecemeal work that his characters subsist on. It’s a world devoid of dignity, but Ansa, at least, won’t surrender her self-respect. Any despair that it makes you feel is counterbalanced by the thought that maybe some light will shine into our fated pair’s lives, and you have to have faith in Kaurismäki that it will. It’s not a vocally political movie, but it definitely is a statement piece.

It’s difficult to say if a Kaurismäki film would be thought of as odd in his native country or if that’s just what Finland is like. To an international viewer, it’s the eternal question. Fallen Leaves is a delightful oddball, an unorthodox love story between two nice people barely scraping by on the economical underbelly of their country. Its quiet, lackadaisical pace won’t appeal to everyone, but Kaurismäki has cultivated such a specific feel to this movie that is intoxicating if you get swept into it. 

Fallen Leaves opened in Australian cinemas on February 14, 2024

Directed by: Aki Kaurismäki

Starring: Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen

Movie Review: Argylle

Henry Cavill has not had much luck as the face of franchises. Between non-starters like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., re-cast leads like The Witcher, and whatever trainwreck the DCEU has ended up with, there was a time when the man didn’t have a franchise to his name. This all changes in 2024, with Matthew Vaughn’s (The King’s Man) new flagship, Argylle. Cavill plays the titular hero, he’s front and centre on the poster, and … he’s barely in the movie. There’s a marginally different movie behind this artifice, but it’s one that you’ve already seen before. There’s barely a mind here, let alone a twisted one.

Book Review: The Black Ice — Michael Connelly

We’re only two Bosch novels in and already the man finds himself fighting a bull. It’s difficult not to think “we’re at this point already?” For a policeman who is supposed to be grounded in his approach to the law, Bosch finds himself caught up in multiple flights of fancy in The Black Ice. It’s hard to say whether he does more or less bad police work than in his previous outing, but he’s still a fun guy to hang around.

Movie Review: Poor Things

Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) is an acquired taste, to say the least. Even if he’s presenting a relatively mundane story, there’s a sense of unease hanging around proceedings. Poor Things, however,is not a mundane film. It is a nightmarish and outré work delivered under the dark cover of having a name cast. Whether audiences are suspecting or not is up to them, but they really should have learned their lesson by now: Lanthimos has made a hypnotising tour de force that demands you get with its rhythms or die. 

Choose life.

Book Review: Argylle — Elly Conway

What they don’t tell you about ageing is that you get tired of cynical corporate synergy movie tie-in exercises. In a brighter, more innocent world, someone might see Argylle, the novel released one month ahead of a movie of the same name that is not based on the novel but is instead based on a “fictionalised” version of the author of the novel, who probably doesn’t exist, and say “Wow! The thin gruel of this spy novel is great grist for the mill of a metanarrative from one of the more irritating auteurs of the 21st century!”
The wide-eyed ingenue who might have thought that died years ago, and in his place is someone just shy of forty who can almost see through the thin veneer – and yet is still not smart enough to opt out entirely.

Movie Review: Mean Girls (2024)

The circle of life now is book to movie to musical to movie. Tina Fey’s beloved 2004 comedy Mean Girls, loosely inspired by a non-fiction book about high school hierarchy, has had a long and charmed life, with a veritable empire built from it. Now it’s back, twenty years later, and on the big screen instead of the originally planned Paramount+ launch (where, charitably, no one would have watched it).

Of course, Paramount has forgotten to promote the movie as a musical, even if there’s a note in the A. Trailers didn’t have any songs in it and tried to cut around choreography. The movie itself is missing 14 songs, approximately half of the show. And the story itself has almost all of the same problems as the original movie did. In many ways, while not a straight (ha) remake, Mean Girls is almost the original movie with a couple of songs slapped into it; whether that works depends on if you liked the movie in the first place and if you’re not so wedded to it that you can’t stand to see it in different hands. It’s a delicate balancing act.

Movie Review: The Beekeeper

The One Man Army has been a respected, and well trod, genre for many years. In recent times there’s been an influx of flair and personality into what can tend to be somber and bloody affairs. The Beekeeper looks like it might just be another run and gun, but there are times when it rises above itself to become heightened cinema. Adam Clay might not have personality, but The Beekeeper does.

Book Review: I’m Glad My Mom Died — Jennette McCurdy

From the mid-noughts to the mid-tens, Jennette McCurdy played the breakout character in a Nickelodeon sitcom, which got her a degree of fame and fortune (allegedly garnished due to a bureaucratic failure). Then she kind of faded away. Her memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, has generated a lot of buzz, which seems unusual to an outsider to the Nickelodeon ecosystem. iCarly was watched by millions, but as McCurdy herself says, it was the dead-end fame of child acting, an ecosystem that can be near impossible to escape.

Internationally, at least, it could be said that McCurdy is now more famous for this book than she ever was for iCarly or Sam & Cat. The 65 weeks on the New York Times hardcover best seller list certainly isn’t hurting her, but it’s also proof that her success isn’t entirely down to her notoriety: a combination of good publicity and a compelling story have allowed her to escape the walled garden of childhood fame for literary stardom and a potential new career.

Movie Review: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

The DC Extended Universe never had much good will, and it is well and truly past the time that it has squandered it all. Its best movie was a forbidden one that was never supposed to exist, the misunderstood subject of unconstructive memes. Most everything else has tarnished with time, and the project spawned several underwhelming or plain bad movies that underperformed at the box office. From a higher level, Warner Bros Discovery made mystifying calls, like cancelling the well-cast Batgirl while retooling and releasing the troubled and terrible The Flash to an indifferent audience.

2018’s Aquaman was amusing and satisfying, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom retains a good deal of its creative team, so you would expect it to be good. However, this movie was doomed almost from the start, as the DCEU became micromanaged to the point that any individual would not have been able to shift the needle on it. That Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is even okayish is a minor miracle, but that’s really not good enough with the amount of money involved. At least now we know this chapter in film history is over (yet a new one struggles to be born).

Book Review: Lowdown Road – Scott Von Doviak

Hixploitation! Scott Von Doviak is a genre man par excellence. What he did for multigenerational heist mysteries in Charlesgate Confidential he does for murderous road movies in Lowdown Road. This is the sort of book designed to be read in a day, if not a single sitting. It’s Hard Case Crime, so you know you’re there to, at the very least, bask in the cover.