“The Dead Leaves”, the meeting of two lonely hearts

Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) and Ansa (Alma Pöysti), in “Dead Leaves”, by Aki Kaurismäki.


Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) suits the cinema of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, where the libertarian spirit and joyful melancholy come together in spades. The title of his new film, Dead leavesJury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival (Alpes-Maritimes) –, borrowed from that of a song written by the poet, is therefore not a coincidence. The director is more than cultured, quite a Francophile, and this would not be his first quote from the great Jacques. For the fortunate reader who does not yet know this august 66-year-old rocker descending from the Finnish mists on vapors of strong alcohol, we will draw a Wes Anderson-style map in an attempt to circumscribe the universe of this impioned monster with a tender heart. We find him above ground, floating in the company of a few other phlegmatic and insular burlesques.

Let’s name the French Jacques Tati (1907-1982), Portuguese Joao Cesar Monteiro (1939-2003), the Palestinian Elia Suleiman, the Spaniard Albert Serra. Those, in a word, that we recognize precisely at the first word, in the foreground. Imagine, when it comes to Aki Kaurismäki, a refined art from silent films, supremely expressive, dry melodrama with battered proles, people of few words, striking colors, elegantly desperate humor, gratuitous violence, love and tenderness which lurk discreetly, an old rock or a Finnish tango which capsizes. Proactive freedom. A phenomenal sense of the ridiculous. A diffuse surreality.

After having delighted us for thirty years with choice pieces – let us quote for the record Shadows in Paradise (1986), The Match Girl And I hired a killer (1990), In the distance the clouds go (1996), The Man Without a Past (2002), The Lights of the suburbs (2006) –, Aki Kaurismäki decided in 2017, unexpectedly, to hang up her career. Had he gone from The Other Side of Hope, a film which was released precisely that year? Pot kick, the rather rare filmmaker gave us a few words when the film was released. He explained in particular this: “I think the man is crazy and there’s nothing we can do about it. More serious, man is mad precisely because he thinks. » We can see that this could, in the long run, be a temptation to withdraw.

Absolute solitude

The fact remains that what artists prefer to do after their goodbyes is their return. We are happy that in this, at least, Aki Kaurismäki can finally compare. Otherwise, it’s just the usual music. A melodrama without embellishments, which brings together Ansa (Alma Pöysti), a pretty, slightly faded blonde, and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), a big giggly addicted to alcohol: two poor loners left on the sidewalk by the market economy, who go spend their time finding and losing themselves. The rest is pure staging. Let’s describe the beginning of the film alone to convince ourselves of this.

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