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The stars of "Fallen Leaves" talk comedy and romance in the new Finnish film

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Finnish film "Fallen Leaves" is understated and gently hilarious. It presents two people, Ansa and Holappa, who find each other, then lose touch, then find each other again and find - well, I don't know. Is it love? "Fallen Leaves" won a Jury Prize at Cannes and is Finland's entry for best international feature film at the Oscars. Alma Poysti stars as Ansa, Jussi Vatanen as Holappa. They join us now from separate locations across from each other around the globe. Thank you both very much for being with us.

ALMA POYSTI: Thank you so much for having us.

JUSSI VATANEN: Thank you so much.

SIMON: Let me ask you both, if we could begin with Alma, what did you think when you first read this script?

POYSTI: Well, it was an absolute pearl of a script. It was crystal clear. It was hilarious and deeply touching. Aki Kaurismaki is not only a brilliant director. He's an excellent writer, like a poet. So it was a true gift to be presented with a script like this.

SIMON: Jussi Vatanen, what did you think when you first read the script?

VATANEN: Well, I have to say, I loved the story. It's great to have a humble and an honest love story - nothing too complicated, but honest people with their true feelings. And in a way, in these days it feels great.

SIMON: Holappa has a problem, doesn't he?

VATANEN: I guess he has quite many problems, actually. He's a bit of a loner. He likes to drink. That's a fact. But things get interesting when he meets this lovely lady, and he has to figure out, does he want to hold on to that solitary world, or does he want to open up, because if you want love, you have to open up yourself?

POYSTI: And that's something that Kaurismaki describes very well in almost all of his films, is the little people, the ones who aren't necessarily successful in the traditional way we look at people, but they lead as important lives as anyone.

SIMON: You have mentioned the director, the filmmaker, Aki Kaurismaki. What does he represent in Finnish and now world filmmaking, do you think?

VATANEN: Well, he is a living legend in Finland. He's been making films, I guess, over 40 years. And me and Alma, of course, growing up in Finland, we've been under his influence for all of our lifetime.

SIMON: Alma Poysti, what was it like to work for Aki Kaurismaki?

POYSTI: It was a true gift and very unexpected that this would happen. I'm so grateful, and I learned so much. But it was like a time journey to old-time filmmaking, shooting on a 35-millimeter film. And we had only one take per shot, or that was the aim at least.

SIMON: Wow.

POYSTI: And he has his own method of working. He didn't want us to rehearse at all. He said, well, somehow learn the lines, but don't prepare too much. And then we came to the set, and we were building the frame for hours together with the team, and it was such a beautiful concentration there, because when everybody has this one shot, this one take, the concentration in that room is very beautiful, and the caring of each and every detail to get it right. Well, of course, that was a shock and quite terrifying at first, but then when you start to get a hang of it, it's such a beautiful way of working because you realize that first and only time something is happening in front of the camera, it's a very precious moment.

VATANEN: Both Holappa and Ansa are very shy people, and they are not quite familiar with their own feelings, I guess. When we were shooting those scenes, I think that method gave us something to our acting.

SIMON: The radio is on in so many scenes and always with news of the war in Ukraine. That war, of course, still goes on. Does it mean something more in Finland than it might in the U.S. right now?

VATANEN: I guess that goes without saying. We have a long border with Russia, and before the Russian aggression against Ukraine, we weren't a member of the NATO, and now we are.

SIMON: Alma Poysti, I wonder how you feel about that.

POYSTI: It's so sad. There can be no winners in a situation like this. And Aki also said that it would have been impossible to make a movie without having the war present. It serves like a time capsule and a witness, so that whenever someone sees the movie in the future, they will know that this was going on.

SIMON: Alma and Holappa go to a movie together. Not exactly a romantic comedy that they see, is it?

POYSTI: Holappa takes Ansa to see "The Dead Don't Die" by Jim Jarmusch.

SIMON: Yeah, yeah.

POYSTI: And, well, it's hilarious. We've come to the conclusion with Jussi that we think that it's because he wants to test her, to see if she is some kind of future girlfriend material or not. Can she handle it? And she definitely passes that test.

SIMON: Yeah. You know, I say this with respect for this wonderful film you've done, but for a lot of American filmgoers, Finnish and comedy are two words that don't usually go together.

POYSTI: Yeah. And then a minute there was silence (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah, I was hoping you would tell me how wrong I was.

POYSTI: I guess the film will tell you. I mean, people are really taking the humor of Aki Kaurismaki to their hearts all over the globe, which is extremely, I don't know, touching. It works in Japan. It works in Latin America, in France, in the States. To be funny in different languages and cultures and where you come from, it's not a given.

SIMON: Yeah. Jussi Vatanen, Ansa gets the courage to give Holappa an ultimatum. And Holappa finds courage too. Why do you think they bet on each other?

VATANEN: I think it's the question of having chances in life. I think that Holappa, deep down, has a feeling that maybe life just hasn't yet offered all of its beauty to me. And maybe this is the chance I have to take. And I can relate to that. Every once in a while in life, you get the feeling that, hey, come on, I have to take this chance. I didn't see this coming, but I have to take it.

SIMON: Yeah. We mentioned, of course, that the film has been nominated for international Oscar. May I ask, are both of you going to the Academy Awards?

POYSTI: Well, wouldn't that be lovely? It depends, I guess, if we get shortlisted, but, yeah, fingers crossed.

VATANEN: Yeah. It sounds like fun.

SIMON: Alma Poysti and Jussi Vatanen star in the new Finnish film "Fallen Leaves." Good luck to you both. Thank you very much for being with us.

POYSTI: Thank you so much for having us.

VATANEN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.