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Stars of Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves: "No pressure" over possible Cannes awards

Aki Kaurismäki's film Fallen Leaves, which premiered on Monday, is garnering a lot of buzz ahead of Saturday's awards ceremony.

Aki Kaurismäki speaks at a press conference in Cannes. On one side is Jussi Vatanen and on the other side Alma Pöysti.
Aki Kaurismäki spoke a press conference in Cannes on Tuesday, flanked by Jussi Vatanen (left) and Alma Pöysti. Image: Juha Nurminen
Yle News

Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki graced reporters with a press conference on Tuesday after saying he would not give any media interviews at all. The sombre Finn still stuck to his policy of no one-on-one interviews, however.

"This is the most realistic film I ever made, since the last one," Kaurismäki quipped to the room of journalists.

The premiere of Kaurismäki's film Fallen Leaves has generated considerable buzz during this year's Cannes Film Festival and is among the favourites to win the Palme d'Or — the festival's highest honour.

Critics have showered rave reviews on the film and its lead actors, Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen, who are attending the Cannes festival for the first time.

"Go with the flow! The praise that the film is getting feels really good," Pöysti said.

Vatanen said he was savouring this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Fallen Leaves tells the love story of Ansa, played by Pöysti, who is struggling with odd jobs, and the alcoholic Holappa, played by Vatanen.

Aki Kaurismäki was in front of the international press at the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday. This is the full press conference, which is mainly in English. The director said he would not do one-on-one videos with the media.

Film transcends language and culture

The tragicomedy made audiences laugh and cry, according to the actors.

"Even though 1,000 people attended the premiere at the Lumière Auditorium, the atmosphere was intimate. It felt like we were there together. The various levels and humour of the film transcended language and cultural barriers," Pöysti said.

Vatanen also praised the director's vision.

"Aki [Kaurismäki] has always been able to tell stories that deal with universal themes. Fallen Leaves continues in this vein," Vatanen noted.

"Aki's visions clear"

Pöysti and Vatanen said that their collaboration with the legendary director went well, even though neither of them had worked with him before.

"Aki's thoughts and visions are really clear and he knows exactly how to implement them. We had a hell of a lot of fun too. There was no unnecessary talk during the filming, but the work was done with respect, warmth and heart," Pöysti said.

Movies about 'little people'

Kaurismäki's trademark is warm humanism spiced with dark humour. Pöysti and Vatanen said they recognised this worldview and appreciated Kaurismäki's uncompromising approach.

"Aki makes films about little people and portrays their struggles. I subscribe to his humanism and pacifism and believe that a whisper can achieve more than a shout if there's a bright idea behind it," Pöysti said.

Kaurismäki also addresses social themes and current events.

"Social themes have always featured strongly in Aki's films. This film reflects the war in Ukraine, which I think is important. What's essential is that important social themes are addressed, however an artist chooses to do so," Vatanen said.

No stress over accolades

The Palme d'Or and the other Cannes Film Festival awards will be handed out on Saturday evening. The actors say they don't feel any unnecessary pressure about the awards.

"We're just enjoying the festival. The awards are a world of their own and it's not up to us anymore," Pöysti said.

Vatanen agreed with his co-star.

"We'll take whatever we can get, but to be honest, I haven't given much thought to the awards," Vatanen added.

But they both hope that Kaurismäki's dog Alma, who appears in the film, will be recognised. The Cannes Film Festival awards the Palm Dog prize for the best performance by a canine in a film.

Kaurismäki's Man Without a Past won the Grand Prix, the second-place prize at the Cannes festival, in 2002. Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen's Compartment Number 6 won the same prize in 2021.

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