Man Without a Past, The (2002)

4 stars

The second film of Kaurismäki’s ‘Finland’ trilogy could be one of his most mature works, achieving a fine balance between the driest of humour and the most encompassing of compassion.

Dir. Aki Kaurismäki
2002 | Finland | Comedy/Drama/Romance | 97 mins | 1.85:1 | Finnish 
PG (passed clean) for some violence

Cast: Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen
Plot: A man arrives in Helsinki and gets beaten up so severely he develops amnesia. Unable to remember his name or anything from his past life, he cannot get a job or an apartment, so he starts living on the outskirts of the city.
Awards: Won Grand Jury Prize, Best Actress & Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Cannes). Nom. for 1 Oscar – Best Foreign Language Film
Source: Finnish Film Foundation

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse


Review #1,648

(Reviewed at the Finnish Film Festival ’18)

Spoilers: No

This is one of Aki Kaurismäki’s finest works, and also the strongest entry of his ‘Finland’ trilogy which is bookended by Drifting Clouds (1996) and Lights in the Dusk (2006). Centering on a man (known as M) who is robbed and beaten up by several hoodlums, which causes him to lose his memory of who he was and the life he had led, the film sees him being driven to the outskirts of Helsinki where he seeks refuge in an empty container and finds help from the Salvation Army that is operating near his makeshift dwelling.

Markku Peltola plays M with a nifty mix of childlike wonder and manly awkwardness as he tries to build his life from scratch in a small community of poor if eccentric people. He meets Irma (played by Kati Outinen, a Kaurismäki regular, and who won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her role here), a kind if soft-spoken Salvation Army volunteer who lives alone. Through the burgeoning friendship with M, Irma slowly discovers the warmth of companionship, and possibly love.

“What do I owe you?”
“If you ever find me face down in the gutter, turn me around to my back.”

The Man Without a Past also achieves a fine balance between the driest of humour (of which there are aplenty) and the most encompassing of compassion. It is a deadpan comic delight that has a lot of heart, and none more so than its perfectly-timed music interludes (a distinctive trademark of the Finn’s work), performed to an appreciative crowd in that small community.

But it is Kaurismäki’s remarkable handling of tone that has cemented him as one of European cinema’s great artists, and in The Man Without a Past, he tackles a bleak social reality—of unemployment, poverty and hooliganism—with a decidedly graceful if sometimes playful approach that suggests that no matter how grim things are, there is always a silver lining. This Oscar-nominated picture (for Best Foreign Language Film) also benefits greatly from its theme of memory loss, where one man’s plight becomes his salvation. By symbolic extension, Kaurismäki seems to want to say that his country must look forward to a future where the past must play little part.

Grade: A-




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