Mies vailla menneisyyttä [The Man Without a Past] (2002)

I know a Finn, who I could swear once recommended or encouraged the viewing of this film, but I can’t be held to believing that as fact, for I’m too lazy to go back and verify it for certain. Considering the overall flavour of the film, I would not be surprised, with his tastes and general attitude, if indeed my memory is working perfectly fine, though.

“M” (Markku Peltola) is a man who arrives in Helsinki, Finland from origins unknown, and after arrival finds himself mugged and beaten to a bleeding stupor that leaves him without knowledge of even his name, let alone his home, friends, family or anything to identify him. He then uses the kindness of others to build a new life for himself–from absolutely nothing. He does not use everyone else as unnecessary crutches, but as handholds to pull himself up to where he needs to be–after all, difficult to just manifest housing or food for oneself, and one realizes how difficult finding a job would be without a social security number or real identity.

Aki Kaurismäki is a rather well thought-of director in independent and foreign cinema scenes–either a blessing or a kiss of death for me, as it means either creative and unusual or boring and pretentious. Luckily, Kaurismäki is the former. I don’t know whether or not I found the comedy funny, per se, though I definitely saw it (and was definitely amused by some lines) and so I’m not sure what to say exactly about Kaurismäki, except that I’m pretty sure I liked the film. It’s weird, I can say that for certain. Events in it are–as the first line of the plot I wrote above makes clear–not really the most humourous things in the world, but they are performed and filmed in a fashion that does not make these sad, dark events depressing, dour, or even really blackly funny. The humour comes from the responses of the characters, who are intentionally (it is too universal and too similar in nature to be flawed performance or direction) flat and emotionless, often delivering truly ridiculous or absurd lines–such as M’s landlord’s commentary about his guard dog–without cracking a smile or overacting, or even underacting. A peculiar romance develops, even, with Salvation Army worker Irma (Kati Outinen) and M, but it’s not overly sentimental, nor is it cynical. Certainly it’s a cheerful romance, one we are happy to see, but it’s not one that leaps out at us. Irma and M sit on the couch in his container (as in, goes on shipping vessels and semis) home listening to music on his jukebox. It looks ridiculous and almost pathetic, yet it doesn’t. There’s a brightness to this hard-earned, simple existence that makes it acceptable to the eye despite the detailed facts of the matter. From what I read, apparently this is Kaurismäki’s way–to portray bleak, depressing events in a contrary way.

It’s an entertaining film, though you’re never quite sure why, and perhaps even think you shouldn’t be enjoying it as much as you are, and wonder, even, how you can like some of these characters who are so despicable. The ending is not Hollywood, but is thoroughly satisfying and upbeat. It’s highly unusual though, with an anticlimax for a climax–which does somehow manage to make itself a climax anyway, when we learn who M really was, and what it is he used to live like as compared to his new existence. Perhaps “hard to describe” would have been a better term for me to choose than “weird,” but I suppose it will have to do–it’s still accurate, even if not terribly descriptive.


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