The Man Without a Past

Life must move slower in Finland, or at least for writer/director Aki Kaurismaki. Kaurismaki (Juha, Drifting Clouds) has a cult following worldwide, and a great, weird sense of humor that comes through in the much-lauded The Man Without a Past. It garnered a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards as well as the Best Actress (for Kati Outinen) and Grand Prize Jury Winner at Cannes and a slew of other international awards. This is a deceptively simple film that slowly creeps up on the viewer, with its subtle humor and incisive wit. All the actors in Kaurismaki's film deliver their lines with a straight face. In fact, it seems that any sort of expression at all is a cardinal sin.

This holds true for the main character, simply referred to as M (Markku Peltola, Juha, Drifting Clouds). The beginning of The Man Without a Past finds M the subject of a savage beating that leaves him with amnesia. He was on his way somewhere on the train, so nobody in the area is familiar with him. Nieminen (Juhani Niemela, The Quiet Village, Rondaus), a grizzled old man takes him in and M tries to get back onto his feet and regain his memory. He finds that not having a name is a big problem, but still manages to get by. He eventually makes his way to the Salvation Army, where he begins a slight relationship with Irma (Outinen, Spy Games, Juha).

As M makes his way back to full functionality, he meets all sorts of strange people and gets into all sorts of bizarre situations. Throughout everything, M perseveres and even manages to brighten the lives of people around him. Everything here is very minimal, from the plot, to the sets, and especially the dialogue. There is not a lot of things to say, and the words that do come out mostly come in deadpan monotone. This only makes what is coming out funnier. A lot of the humor also comes from throwaway one-liners which, if not careful, which are easy to miss because of their delivery. It's not easy to keep expressions to a minimum. For most actors, it is exactly the opposite of what they are trained to do. Still, the actors manage to convey a lot of emotion, even with the lack of dialogue and lines. The Man Without a Past is a slight film, but charming in its own special way, just like M. Anybody else would become frustrated to the point of violence, but M just keeps on going, and nothing fazes him.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 37 minutes, Finnish with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for some violence.

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