A man (Markku Peltola) walks from a station at night and sits in the dark waiting for the next train. As he dozes on the bench, three toughs come from behind and violently attack him. They take everything of value, including his identification, give him one more bash to the head with a baseball bat, for good measure, and leave him for dead. He recovers physically, but not so the mind of "The Man Without a Past."
Nearly from the start, there is the sense of rebirth and resurrection as the nameless Man relies, initially, on the kindness of strangers to get by from day to day. But, he is a resourceful, intelligent man and soon is getting along on his own. When he has his Friday night dinner at the local Salvation Army soup kitchen, he sees Irma (Kati Outinen), one of the soldiers of God, and immediately takes a liking to her. This begins a romance that spans the film and is an integral part of the Man's resurrection as he builds a new life while remembering only snippets - as when he discovers that he is a welder - from his previous life.
Director Aki Kaurismaki gives an austere look to the film that befits the surrounding in which the Man lives. Totally destitute, without money or a place to stay he meets a couple living in a shipping container along the shore. They give him a place to sleep and help him get his new life going. A stern security guard (with a heart) helps him find a container of his own and the Man takes up housekeeping and the task of creating a new life.
The destitute environment that the Man lives would seem hopeless to most, but subtle bits of deadpan humor are leavened throughout the film help to lighten the look into a subset of society that represents the dregs of Helsinki citizenry. In an odd way, Kaurismaki gives this harsh life a positive spin as the Man "finds" himself and true love with Irma.
Markku Peltola portrays the Man in a stiff, blank cipher way that complements the character. Following his beating and subsequent amnesia he is like a clean slate ready to be filled with the information that will allow him to be a complete human being once again. Kati Outinen, as Irma, gives a fine performance as a woman who, through the Salvation Army, wants to help people but she is struggling through life herself - until she meets the Man. The gentle romance that ensues is warm and touching and you want the couple to be together in the end. Supporting cast is quirky, often amusing and helps to flesh out the background story nicely.
The script, by helmer Kaurismaki, has an almost mystical flair when the Man, pronounced dead after his beating, suddenly comes to life, gathers his clothes and leaves the hospital. The story also carries an underlying current of identity as the Man tries to work within the Finnish bureaucracy but, since he can't remember his name, remains an enigmatic unknown in the system. Between resurrection, romance and identity crisis there is a lot going on in what appears to be a simple story.
Art design, by Markku Patila and Jukko Salmi, makes you think that "The Man Without a Past" is set in the 50's or 60's and it isn't until we see a late model Volvo taxi do we know for sure that this is a modern parable. Costume and colors play an important role, too, as the Man changes shirts and the colors - red and blue - lend to the mood of the film. Music, from old rock 'n' roll to R&B to Finnish folk and contemporary music lends the film an upbeat mood, too.
"The Man Without a Past" is the second entry in Kaurismaki's Finnish trilogy and it makes me want to see the first in the series, "Drifting Clouds," and anticipate the finale. I give it an A-.
Laura did not review this film, but also gives it an A-.
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