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Fallen Leaves is a surprising crowd-pleaser from a minimalist master

Starring Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen. Written and directed by Aki Kaurismäki. Now playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox. 81 minutes. STC

⭐️⭐️⭐️½ (out of 4)

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

Grocery worker Ansa (Alma Pöysti) is sad but hopeful, construction labourer Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) is depressed and drunk — what’s not to love?

Astringent Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki conjures a touching lonely hearts tale for this unlikely pair, in this long-gestating fourth chapter of his working-class “trilogy,” following “Shadows in Paradise” (1986), “Ariel” (1988) and “The Match Factory Girl” (1990).

Helsinki duo Ansa and Holappa meet in a karaoke bar where the writer/director’s deadpan humour and precise staging get full sway and Holappa expresses his opinion that “Tough guys don’t sing.” (Afterwards the couple go to a screening of Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die,” a hat-tip to a Kaurismäki pal and fellow cosmic traveller.)

Ansa and Holappa can inspire empathy when they turn out to be not as tough as they pretend to be.

“Fallen Leaves,” the Jury Prize winner at Cannes 2023 and winner of Best International Feature from the Toronto Film Critics Association, is an unexpected crowd-pleaser from a minimalist master. 🌓

(Previously published in the Toronto Star.)

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