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Exploring themes of hardship, hope and humanity in the Finnish film “Dead Leaves”

“Would you indulge in a zombie-themed cinematic experience on a premiere rendezvous? Do you find mirth in the aftermath of such a peculiar viewing? Human predilections vary, and the ethereal bond between individuals remains an enigmatic phenomenon. Two souls are drawn to each other, only to be met with the harshness of reality: the gentleman indulges in spirits and rebuffs entreaties, while the lady, in a fit of ire, adopts a canine companion—a tale also delving into the intricacies of proletarian existence, the Finnish production “Dead Leaves” unfolds a narrative far more grounded than that of “Perfect Day”.

Within the realm of “Dead Leaves”, the protagonist toils diligently in menial vocations day in and day out, yet remains ensnared in the clutches of joblessness; meanwhile, the male lead grapples with alcoholism and recurrent dismissals from employment. Under the weight of such burdens, individuals often succumb to a mechanical desensitization. The gamut of characters in “Dead Leaves” spans from ordinary tavern patrons to duty-bound nurses, from seasoned vocalists on stage to beseeching uncles, encompassing both revelry and toil, even transgression against societal norms. A mask of stoicism veils each countenance. Surveying the trials of the male and female leads in unison, life’s tribulations resemble an inextricable knot. The film employs dark humor as its primary vehicle to navigate these adversities:

“One may hasten their demise through smoking.”
“Nay, I shall succumb to pneumoconiosis ere that.”

“Why do you partake in spirits?”
“For melancholy clouds my spirit.”
“Why does melancholy befall you?”
“For overindulgence in spirits.”

Though “Dead Leaves” exudes an aura of tranquility tinged with solitude, its essence is far from decadent. Even amidst destitution, sustenance and shelter remain imperative. A wistful grin epitomizes the final stand against adversity.

Upon the chance encounter of the protagonists, a flicker of hope alights within their hearts. The film injects a semblance of warmth into its austere canvas, be it through the heroine’s crimson attire or the scarlet windowpane amidst the rain as she awaits his arrival. Ostensibly, the principal impediment between the pair is alcoholism. Yet, I find greater poignancy in the minutiae often overlooked: the loss of contact information, the anonymity between acquaintances, the serendipitous misses. Love’s devotees are inexorably drawn together, bereft of alternative paths; the narrative of “Withered Leaves” instills a perpetual sense of near-miss, a fleetingness that echoes mundane marital disarray. This semblance of naturalness resonates, akin to the symbiotic relationship between malevolence, intemperance, and destitution. The discord between the two protagonists stems directly from alcoholism—the woman, a casualty of familial alcoholism, naturally reviles it, while the man perceives her intervention as undue interference. An intended tête-à-tête concludes acrimoniously. In an act of defiance, the woman silences the radio broadcasting news and mutters, “To hell with war.”

Navigating such adversities remains arduous, their sheer multitude overwhelming. Thus remarks the heroine following the zombie flick—a sentiment that mirrors life’s tribulations. How meager is one’s agency, is it adequate for self-preservation? The man’s subsequent sobriety symbolizes a struggle to reclaim agency amidst life’s vicissitudes. A romantic gesture, perhaps, yet also a glimmer of hope amidst the turmoil of existence. Yet fate, in its caprice, orchestrates their estrangement anew. Nonetheless, the narrative lacks grandiose twists. She waits, and in his absence, finds solace in the companionship of a canine…

The narrative of “Withered Leaves” echoes that of “The Scholars”, flowing languidly like a meandering stream. To excise a segment is to disrupt the tapestry in its entirety—a pitfall of realism. It demands unwavering engagement, lest one be misled by its veneer of placidity. As an aficionado of “The Scholars”, I’m partial to a line uttered by the heroine towards the denouement: “Splendid. I shall retrieve the canine and watch him depart.” Neither tepid nor ostentatious, it embodies tactfulness throughout—a thread of humor weaving through the tapestry.

In Norse mythology, the branches of a colossal tree comprise the cosmos. As the mighty boughs wane, the dead leaves epitomize erstwhile grandeur, concealing the splendor of summers past, the present afflictions traceable to erstwhile prosperity. The denouement of “Dead Leaves” resembles a scene from a four-panel comic, wherein Snoopy observes a leaf’s descent, remarking with contentment, “Thank you for your dance.”

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