Fallen Leaves (Kuolleet Lehdet): the fourth volume in Aki Kaurismäki’s working class series


Aki Kaurismäki competes for the Palme d’or for the fifth time with Kuolleet Lehdet (Fallen Leaves), a very human rendering of his tender and zany world. Winner of the Grand Prix for The Man Without a Past in 2002, which garnered the Best Actress Award for Kati Outinen, the Finnish director depicts, in this film In Competition, the universal themes of love, solidarity, hope and respect for others.

Two lonely souls (Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen) are searching for the love of their lives: their chance, poignant meeting on a Helsinki night is hampered by alcoholism on his part, lost contact details, and life in general, which has a knack for placing obstacles in the way of people aspiring to happiness. This gentle tragicomedy was conceived by Aki Kaurismäki as a fourth episode for his working-class trilogy: in Shadows in Paradise (1986), Nikander and Llona, a dustman and a supermarket checkout worker, don’t achieve the social advancement they hoped for by stealing from the till, in Ariel (1988), the life dreamed of by the protagonist, a warehouse worker, does not go the way he wants, and in The Match Factory Girl (1990), Iris, the young worker relegated to a menial role, cannot shake her feeling of exclusion.

The disintegration of the working class, thwarted social advancement: each of his films, which are as bleak as they are heartwarming, tackles a social theme and sets out to shatter any aspirations to self-realization. Fallen Leaves, In Competition just like Drifting Clouds in 1996, Lights in the Dusk in 2006, and Le Havre in 2011, does however offer a real touch of hope and emancipation.