THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (2002)

My five-year-old laptop died today and while I had my important work backed up I think I lost my list of every movie I’ve seen at the theater in the last couple years. The new releases should be possible to reconstruct but it’s all the showings of older movies that I probably won’t be able to remember. Nuts!

Since I can barely remember what movies I saw last week, the sudden absence of my memory aide makes me feel like a Man Without a Past, which just so happens to be the title of a great Finnish movie I saw this week! There’s little chance of me forgetting Aki Kaurismaki’s film; the only way I can describe it is imagine Paris, Texas with production design, color choices, and musical selections by David Lynch. Two songs in the film are by an obscure British group called The Renegades who took Finland by storm in 1964 but whose success there was never matched anywhere else.

The movie follows a guy who’s hit on the back of the head upon his arrival to Helsinki and when he wakes up he has no idea who he is, but instead of being found by Dean Stockwell early on, no one claims him so he joins the tight-knit homeless community that squats in shipping containers, whereupon he falls in love with a Salvation Army woman who serves him soup, starts slicking his hair back and puts an old jukebox in his container digs, convinces the Salvation Army band to start playing classic rock’n’roll and becomes their manager, and then becomes witness to a lowkey bank robbery and the subject of the single best bureaucratiac argument between a cop and an attorney ever committed to film.

As these occurances happen to him (for he is simultaneously active and passive at all times) he seems to be establishing his identify from scratch while at the same time discovering things about his past like the fact that he must not be a city person because he can grow vegetables. The plot points themselves (and the spoilers above) are not very important, however, as it is his understated yet determined attitude towards life that invests every scene with a sense of humor. It is a very funny film but the humor is absolutely deadpan throughout, accentuated by the highly mannered acting of all concerned. Restraint is the watchword for the inhabitants of Karismaki’s film but the near-arctic summer inhibits not even the most unlikely of characters from displaying warmth towards their fellow man. The Man Without a Past is above all else a humane picture, and makes me eager to seek out the rest of Kaurismaki’s appreciable filmography.

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