Without a Past, The (France/Italy; 106
directed by: Aki Kaurismäki
starring: Markku Peltola; Kati Outinen; Juhani Niemelä; Kaija Pakarinen
|Michael says: Aki Kaurismäki's THE MAN WITHOUT
A PAST is a quirky, romantic comedy with deadpan humor, and a pair of terrific
leads. This tale of amnesia avoids many of the cliches of a bad man whose
memory is wiped clean gets a chance to do good. After being viciously attacked,
a man wakes up in a hospital in Helsinki with no memory of his former life.
The various people he meets provide assitance in small ways, but for the
most part, the man must help himself. His beacon of hope is Irma, a woman
working for the Salvation Army. The two start a slow courtship as the man
finds in her his joy of living.
"While the storyline sounds a bit cloying, Kaurismäki off beat humor and deadpan style make small, everyday activities amusing. His economic use of dialogue is sprinkled with whimsical bouts of philosophy from unlikely mouths, and dry humor that made me laugh out loud. This screenplay is another contender for my nominations, and there could be more." 4 cats
"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." 4 1/2 cats