The Man Without a Past

Hollywood formula gets shamed big-time by Aki Kaurismaki's artful, antic romantic comedy with a twist of rueful wisdom and a welcome blast of vintage rock. It's not every movie that can tell the story of an amnesiac in love and still find room for a mugging, a bank robbery, a pushover attack dog and a jukebox that plays Blind Lemon Jefferson.

at plot there is involves the arrival in Helsinki by train of the title character (Markku Peltola, a wonderfully expressive actor who rarely changes his expression). He is beaten, robbed, hospitalized and declared dead until he gets up — bereft of all memory — and seeks shelter among the poor. Romance blooms with Irma (the dour and delicious Kati Outinen), a Salvation Army worker. And kindness comes in, well, unexpected places. It's the pleasures of the unexpected that make The Man Without a Past such a delicious blend of hilarity and heartbreak. Don't let anyone tell you too much about what Kaurismaki has up his sleeve. Just put yourself in the hands of a master.

From The Archives Issue 920: April 17, 2003
x