«Autumn Leaves» and the happy endings of Aki Kaurismäki

2023-11-30 08:05:00

Cinema can maintain hope. I am talking about the cinema of truth, not the nonsense that is usually projected and has always been projected. (..) I can make sad films, but basically I want the audience to leave happier than they entered. That’s the basic theory. That’s why my films are so exaggeratedly optimistic.”
What he says seems true. The Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki can delve into gray backgrounds, among desolate characters, adorable losers, but his films, as he says in this phrase, They always make the spectator leave the performance with a smile. It is not a minor detail. That is never a minor detail.

His new film “Autumn Leaves”, which premieres in the country’s cinemas (and which is the one chosen by Finland to fight for the Oscars, which its director does not care much about), maintains the sad and hopeful charm of all his work. .

Starring Finnish actors Alma Pöysti (Ansa) and Jussi Vatanen (Holappa), the film in question already won the Jury Prize at the last Cannes Festival, a place where it has become a permanent guest and on whose carpet Roja showed signs of his great histrionics. This year, for example, he played at hiding behind the general delegate of the Cannes Festival, Thierry Frémaux, at the time of the photos, and in 2002, when he presented “The Man Without a Past” there (which also won the Grand Prix of the Jury), slid down the ceremonious red carpet to the rhythm of an original twist.

As in all of his filmography, in “Autumn Leaves,” Kaurismäki once again focuses on that working class that gives him so much effort. In his films, which could well be the film version of Edward Hopper’s paintings, the protagonists are lonely metalworkers, miners, line workers, shoe shiners, and night watchmen. There are losers of all kinds, who are always enveloped not only in the rhythm of a Finnish tango (which also makes them unlucky), but even in a tango by Carlos Gardel, like in this film, in which “Arrabal bitter” plays. . In several of his productions there are themes of the Creole thrush. And in this there is one more tribute: a cafe called “Buenos Aires”. But beyond that music that is always a little bitter, they are not films in which you breathe anguish. Even when melancholy runs through the scenes, Kaurismäki always lets the viewer breathe with his doses of humor, tenderness and, above all, hope. As if he admitted that, yes, in life you lose, but maybe you can win again.

The romantic melodrama that “Autumn Leaves” tells is the meeting of a lonely man and a woman who, after seeing each other in a karaoke bar, decide to spend time together although the chances of it working out are rather slim.

She, Ansa, is a supermarket stocker who is fired because her employers discover that she has taken some products that are about to expire, and it doesn’t matter that they ended up in the trash, the theft seems unforgivable to them. He, Holappa, is an industrial worker who was also fired because of his alcoholism. Each one, on their own, faces loneliness as best they can. Although it is not a film that can be clearly located in the present, there are details that reveal its present, such as when the radio hears about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

These two loners will end up meeting, liking each other and dating. There will be complex moments to face, such as his alcoholism, but also comical situations, such as when they go to the cinema to see Jim Jarmusch’s zombies. The dialogues are brief, said with that impassiveness that seems to be the director’s trademark. And despite all the situations, despite the bad luck that seems to accompany them at every step, they both insist on seeing each other again.

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Despite being a sad and lonely love story, Kaurismäki approaches it with a great sense of humor. In an interview, Kaurismäki said that he often thought about giving a sad ending to his films, but then he feels sorry for his characters and gives them a happy ending. There will be it here too, of course.

And happiness?

“According to the people at the National Tourism Office, with my films I have destroyed dozens of years of work promoting the country’s image. I hope it’s true, because in their brochures Finland was represented by a reindeer running like a man possessed in front of a sunset with a bottle of vodka in his mouth.

That phrase is also from Kaurismäki, who makes fun of the gigantic idea that Finland is, according to an annual UN index, the happiest country in the world.
His films show something quite far from the classic marketing postcard.

Just a few days before the premiere of “Autumn Leaves” in theaters, the streaming platform MUBI, where this film will also be seen shortly, uploaded a selection of 24 titles to its menu, between fiction feature films, documentaries and shorts. A retrospective titled “The Art of Being Human,” a great way to frame the production of one of the most interesting directors in cinema.

In this retrospective you can see, for example, “I Hired a Hired Killer” (1990) in which, with a certain black humor but above all affection, tells the story of a failed office worker who, since he does not find the courage to commit suicide when He is fired, he hires a hitman to kill him without knowing that he is about to fall in love with a florist and that, perhaps, he no longer wants to die, much less be killed.

Also available is the beautiful “Passing Clouds”, in which a couple, who are also fired from their respective jobs and go through a period of many difficulties and many more setbacks, finally manage to open their own restaurant, which they call Työ (meaning work). The final scene of that film is precisely the summary of what Kaurismäki defends: the possibility of hope, the certainty that at some point the gray clouds will open and let the light of the sun be seen.

“Cinema, in the best of cases, can relieve or, in some way, give comfort (…). If you have a sensitivity for art, it can relieve you.”
That is a strong conviction of Kaurismäki, he knows that in his humanist cinema there is always room for love, redemption and the triumph, even if it is fleeting, of the losers. There it is then, on the big screen or on streaming platforms, pure doses of hope from the Finnish director, to leave happier than when he entered.

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