This is a brilliant film from Finland, directed by Aki Kaurismaki, with his humor and sarcastic recipe. It is the second installment in Kaurismäki’s Finland trilogy, the other two films being Drifting Clouds (1996) and Lights in the Dusk (2006). The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002 and won the Grand Prix at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.
Just about a background- Before Finland’s free-market experiment in full employment turned sour in the early 1980s, an unwieldy percentage of eligible workers were in the employ of the government, enjoying social benefits some described as utopia-come-to earth, until the national debt burst its bubble. What followed were austerity measures that produced national withdrawal symptoms worthy of the excesses that prompted them: Social programs vanished as new deal politics (for many) reverted to old deal politics. Faster than mushrooms popping up after a hot rain, urban centers filled with vagrants, migrants, dead-beats and a new class of homeless. It is here, in the precincts of Finland, Aki Kaurismaki’s finds the inspiration for his writing and filmmaking.
The film begins with an unnamed man arriving by train to Helsinki. After falling asleep in Kaisaniemi Park, he is mugged and beaten by hoodlums and is severely injured in the head, losing consciousness. He awakes and wanders back to the train station and collapses in its bathroom. He awakes the second time in a hospital and finds that he has lost his memory. He starts his life from scratch, living in container dwellings, finding clothes with help from the Salvation Army and making friends with the poor.
The characters in The Man without a Past’ drift around under pale, washed-out skies, but every new scene brings an enlivening dose of rockabilly or a minute or so of lush classical music. The main actor, Markuu Peltola, with his bulky movements and overcast leathery features, is perfect for this movie with one of the most deadpan faces you’ll ever see. He is amazing to watch and Kati Outinen, as his love interest, is similarly strange and fascinating. Part of their charm is their unusual looks. This is not a romance between people who look like our normal handsome film stars
All throughout this film the old guard, comprised of quirky, comical, Cannery Row types, and despite hardship and temptation, almost always rises to the occasion of doing the right thing. As far as Finland is concerned, it seems that the divide between generations is not so much economic as spiritual and moral.
Of the many delights in this often humorous, witty film, is its script, written by Kaurismaki, which gets to the point with devices that thoroughly charm the ear. From words whose meanings are oddly weighted, to uncommon phrase constructs, every line is delivered with edge and unpredictability while retaining a naturalness that speaks to the wonderfully measured performances of Markku Peltola and the sublime Kati Outinen. If style is what finally distinguishes art from artifice, Kaurismaki has produced a script that manages to be both laconic and lyrical.
Though this film is about what it takes us to be human, as we are all different but each one of us can be an asset to those around us, and it needn’t necessarily be a money aid. What sets this film apart from other quirky adventures is its internal coherence (both in terms of storytelling and visual style) as well as the humanity of its characters. Keeping the comedy deadpan and playing it straight with every surreal turn of the plot, Kaurismaki has created a warm and unforgettable film
The Man without a Past’ celebrates the importance of life. It demonstrates that a film can be philosophical and still be entertaining. Its simplicity belies the wisdom that affects the heart as much as the head.
- Written, Produced & Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
- Casting: Markku Peltola; Kati Outinen & Juhani Niemelä
- Music by Leevi Madetoja
- Cinematography: Timo Salminen
- Editing by Timo Linnasalo
- Release dates: March 1, 2002
- Running time of 97 minutes
- Country: Finland
- Language: Finnish