Film review: Man Without a Past, The

Published: Friday, June 27 2003 8:04 a.m. MDT

"The Man Without a Past" may be the second film of director Aki Kaurismaki's "Finland" trilogy, but you needn't have seen the first installment to appreciate it.

This film is related to that earlier effort, the black-and-white, silent feature "Juha," only by some themes and settings. And you don't even have to be Finnish to appreciate the wonderfully droll little parable that is "The Man Without a Past," which was one of this year's Best Foreign Film Academy Award nominees.

The film's themes about self-improvement and the importance of identity are universal, and its low-key approach to characterization and storytelling will appeal to those burned out by this summer's big-on-action, little-on-brains blockbusters.

To put it mildly, Kaurismaki's deadpan sense of humor is a little quirky and may remind some of the better films by Jim Jarmusch, and more than a little of Charlie Chaplin's humanist comedies.

The title character is an unnamed man (Markku Peltola) who finds himself in a hospital after being brutally attacked and robbed by three men. He's even pronounced dead. But he wakes up, pulls the tubes out of his arm and escapes.

From there, he finds himself washed up on a shore, where a pair of children find him. Then he's nursed back to health by a sympathetic family.

Eventually, he lives in a glorified storage container that masquerades as a home. He also finds himself some new duds and a job, working as a handyman for the Salvation Army. That's where he meets Irma (Kati Outinen), a Salvation Army nurse who is wary of this charismatic stranger. And she's probably right, especially when his past comes looking for him at the worst possible time.

This may be the most accessible of Kaurismaki's films. And though he's trying to make a point, it doesn't overwhelm everything else. He fills the story with many wonderful touches, including a subplot where the man tries to liven up the Salvation Army band (performed by Finnish musical act Marko Haavisto & Poutahaukat), turning it into a rock 'n' roll combo.

Kaurismaki regular Peltola is wonderful as the title character (his almost too-unflappable demeanor recalls stone-faced Buster Keaton).

However, he's nearly upstaged by a canine performer named Tahti, playing an attack dog that refuses to go after him.

"The Man Without a Past" is rated PG-13 for two scenes of violence (including a brutal beating) and menace, mild profanity and brief gore. Running time: 93 minutes.


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