The supermarket, construction site, neighbourhood bar, bare-bones apartment with the single bed and functional furniture, depopulated streets, a melancholy vibe: the milieu created by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki is familiar as it is recurring – and as welcoming as meeting an old friend to whom you don’t have to explain yourself. The Finnish master’s new movie Fallen Leaves is a typically lugubrious romantic comedy that draws on his back catalogue even as it spins a comforting yarn about second chances.

Fallen Leaves has been premiered on MUBI, where a mini-Kaurismaki festival is underway. Many of his older titles are available on the streaming platform, allowing us to follow his aesthetic concerns over the decades. Fallen Leaves tops the list, counting as one of Kaurismaki’s most delicately etched works.

Kaurismaki’s signature flourishes include impeccably colour-coded sets and costumes, an impassive acting style and deadpan comedy at the absurdities of modern society. Yet, his films are hopeful, finding the grace notes in the community ties that survive an atomised, solitary existence. Music, much of it in English, often conveys what the taciturn characters are unable or unwilling to say.

It is at one such instantly recognisable Kaurismaki joint that supermarket employee Ansa (Alma Poysti) and construction worker Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) first meet. Ansa’s sparkling eyes and the hint of a glow on Holappa’s visage speak louder than words ever can.

But Holappa’s love for the bottle holds Ansa back. There are traces of the Orpheus myth in the slow-burning romance, with songs signposting the evolution of their romance.

The movie is set in 2024, but the news on the radio is about the war in Ukraine. The mobile phones are decidedly not next-gen. We are in a timeless zone, filled with classic tunes, retro props, and eternal emotions.

Droll but affecting too, fairy tale-like without being escapist, with exceptional performances by the leads as well an adorable canine (played by Kaurismaki’s own pet dog) – Fallen Leaves is a brilliant antidote to loneliness. In the mathematical precision of the film’s matrix lie the uncontrolled feelings that emerge when humans take that first, tentative step towards letting themselves go.

Fallen Leaves (2023).