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Kaurismäki about war in Ukraine, love, Chaplin, and asparagus

24 MAY 2023

Fallen Leaves Cannes Press Conference 2023 / PHOTO: AP

Cannes: The secretive Finnish director, actors Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen shared some anecdotes and working methods about Fallen Leaves, vying for the Palme d’or.

The legendary director who was back in the main competition for the 5th time since 1996 refused to give individual interviews during Cannes, but lent himself playfully to the traditional press conference on Tuesday, where he displayed the same deadpan humour and art of word economy as in his films.

As pointed out by Kaurismäki with self-mockery, the film has been described as the fourth part of his working-class trilogy after Shadows in Paradise, Ariel, and The Match Factory Girl. “Yes it is a fourth part of a trilogy, but perhaps people don’t know that a trilogy is only 1-2-3…which is also a Billy Wilder movie”, said the director, known for his encyclopaedic film knowledge.

In fact, Fallen Leaves-his humanistic tale about two lone souls who meet by chance, lose each other before being reunited again, is filled with film references, from an extract of Jim Jarmusch’s zombie spoof The Dead Don’t Die, David Lean’s Brief Encounters, to Chaplin’s Limelight.


Kaurismäki about war in Ukraine, love, Chaplin, and asparagus

Fallen Leaves / PHOTO: Sputnik, Bufo

“So you’ve noticed [these film references] said Kaurismäki jokingly to a journalist. “In my opinion, Chaplin is the best ever. He created Hollywood - for good and bad - and cinema the way we know it today. I like very much Ozu, Bresson, Marcel Carné, but Chaplin is still the best - he kept it simple,” said the Finnish director, himself a master of self-restraint, short but meaningful sentences.

Next to its sense of timelessness, the film is also strongly anchored in the present, with war in Ukraine omnipresent through regular radio news broadcast.

Asked about this device and political comment, Kaurismäki said: “It was inevitable to mention it. I could not have made this film without commenting on this bloody war, so I chose to do this via the radio. We need love stories now, but it doesn’t matter what we do in Finland,” said the director of Le Havre, for whom cinema has the responsibility to document history.

Regarding his country’s fresh NATO entry, Kaurismäki said: “Finland is a democracy and some people obviously wanted to join. But personally, I would have said no to it. Independence is your only defence.”

Asked about his faith in humanity and if empathy and humanity are endangered species, the director said: “It is everything we have left, and there isn’t much left of that. So…adios amigos!”


Kaurismäki about war in Ukraine, love, Chaplin, and asparagus

Aki Kaurismäki, Cannes Press Conference Fallen Leaves / PHOTO: AP

His very personal and recognisable visual style, backed by his regular DoP Timo Salminen was pointed out by another journalist who asking him to expand on the modest beauty of his images and vision of Helsinki.

“If you ever come to Finland, stay two nights maximum!" advised the director who himself is based in Portugal. “You will see the best part of Finland in my movies, he said before adding: This film is perhaps the most realistic film I’ve made…since the last one!”

Commenting on his long-lasting relationship with his film team, Kaurismäki also said: “I have the same crew since 1983. We don’t have to talk - we whistle.”

Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen were also questioned about their roles, and working with Kaurismäki.

Revealed internationally in the biopic Tove, Pöysti said about the Finnish auteur: ”He is very exact and clear and knows exactly what he wants. We were given tips such as don’t look into the camera, don’t rehearse and don’t read the script too much. It’s all done in one take, so we can’t screw up.”

Regarding her part, Pöysti said: “Her name Ansa means ‘trapped’ in Finnish, which is very interesting - and on the mark as she is trapped in her life. She is a hard worker, who finds pride in her work, even if it is low paid and she keeps losing her jobs. The film is about lonely people with baggage, who meet later in life. It takes courage to fall in love later in life,” she stressed.

Meanwhile Jussi Vatanen who starred in the international acclaimed series Man in Room 301, said about his part as Holappa (his family name), a factory worker with a drinking problem: “He is a lone wolf who enjoys solitude-being alone with his thoughts.”

Asked how he tackled his character’s issue with alcohol, the actor said he didn’t focus on this, but on his relationship with his screen partner Pöysti. “It was so nice to find a special
connection with her.”

“There is lots of love and comedy in this film,” observed the actor, who teased Kaurismäki for not giving him a first name in the film, and spent a few minutes describing how the crew debated about asparagus on set. “We mainly talked about cultivating asparagus, and had an argument about the best ones- white or green asparagus.”


Kaurismäki about war in Ukraine, love, Chaplin, and asparagus

Jussi Vatanen, Aki Kaurismäki, Fallen Leaves Press Conference Cannes 2023 / PHOTO: AP

Kaurismäki was also asked to comment on his rich Cannes experience that started in 1996 with Drifting Clouds, and continued with The Man Without a Past (Grand Prix - Best Actress 2002), Lights in the Dusk (2006), and Le Havre (2011).

“Back in 1996 it was different. There were less BMW and Audi cars, and US warfare. Now I love Cannes in an Audi,” he quipped.

Commenting on his film legacy and if he watches his earlier films, the seasoned director said: “I don’t. That doesn’t interest me. It takes so much concentration to do a film, and I would otherwise only see mistakes.“

“I do films for the audience,” he added. “I work one year at my best to offer the best I can give, but after that, it’s not my responsibility.”

Asked about his future projects, Kaurismäki said: “I have written 25% of a tragedy that is in my head, and I will continue to work on this for the next couple of years - if I live!”​

Following the film's successful launch in Cannes, The Match Factory closed major deals with the global platform Mubi for North America, the UK, Ireland, Latin America and Turkey.