(Mies vailla menneisyyttä)

Directed by Aki Kaurismäki. Finland/Germany/France. 2002.

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"Since there is no hope left in the world, I tried to make a hopeful film without too much pessimism, because everything is kind of wrong nowadays."
Aki Kaurismäki 

The Man Without a Past, the latest film from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, is a feel-good comedy, Kaurismäki style. That means deadpan humor, stoic characters, a working-class milieu, and American-style rock music. The movie (which won the Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival) unfortunately does not break any new ground. Markku Peltola plays a welder who is beaten and robbed after stepping off a train to look for work in Helsinki. Referred to as M, he barely survives and loses all memory of his past. Left without any material resources, he slowly picks up the pieces and restarts his life among homeless and eccentric squatters on the outskirts of the city. M has to rely on help from generous local residents and obtain charity from the local Salvation Army. In the process, he meets and falls in love with a dour Salvation Army worker named Irma (Kati Outinen).

The film moves from one contrived situation to another. Renting his quarters from a droll security guard, M acquires a "monstrous" dog named Hannibal, renovates a jukebox that plays American rock music and blues, then turns a bunch of square Salvation Army musicians into a rock band. In another incident, he is arrested as a suspect in a bank robbery only because he was in the bank at the time and could not verify his identity. He later meets with the newly compassionate bank robber, who asks M to use the money he took from his frozen account to pay back people who worked for him. 

The Man Without a Past is a gentle fantasy that reminded me a little of Miracle in Milan. Like De Sica, Kaurismäki identifies with the alienated, and dramatizes society's dismissive attitude toward them. Ultimately, however, I found it a bit too cute to work either as comedy or social commentary. It's an engaging film, but it has too many clever one-liners and "colourful" characters who talk like Jay Leno on tranquilizers. 

Howard Schumann
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