The Man Without A Past

This warm and utterly beguiling fable about a man who loses everything only to discover that he never needed much in the first place won the 2002 Cannes Grand Prix, and is actually the second installment in Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's projected "Finland Trilogy." Never mind that the first, DRIFTING CLOUDS (1996), a bittersweet tale on unemployment,...read more

Where to Watch

Available to Stream

Reviewed by Ken Fox
Rating:

This warm and utterly beguiling fable about a man who loses everything only to discover that he never needed much in the first place won the 2002 Cannes Grand Prix, and is actually the second installment in Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's projected "Finland Trilogy." Never mind that the first, DRIFTING CLOUDS (1996), a bittersweet tale on unemployment, was never actually released in the U.S.; this sequel stands perfectly well on its own. Arriving in Helsinki by train in the dead of night, an unnamed man (Markku Peltola) — the end credits identify him as "M" — dozes off on park bench, only to be attacked by a trio of thugs who beat him mercilessly with a baseball bat, steal his money and toss his wallet — identity papers and all — into a trash can. M is rushed to the hospital and is declared dead soon after admission. But as soon as the doctor and nurse leave the room, M sits bolt upright, knocks his broken nose back into joint and walks out into the night, reborn and with no recollection of his name or past life. He doesn't get far: The following morning, kind-hearted night watchman Nieminen (Juhani Niemela) finds M unconscious down by the waterfront, and takes him back to the rusted metal cargo container Nieminen and his wife, Kaisa (Kaija Pakarinen), have converted into a squat. They welcome M into their humble abode, nurse him back to health and even arrange for him to rent his own container from officious security guard Antilla (Sakari Kuosmanen), who isn't above exploiting the homeless who've found shelter on Helsinki's waterfront. When Nieminen takes M to a Salvation Army soup kitchen for dinner, M meets and quickly falls in love with Irma (Kati Outinen), a lonely Army soldier who helps M find work and, eventually, romance. Like many of Kaurismaki's color features, the film has a slightly artificial, almost plastic texture, and the story, with its deep sentiment and intimations of divine grace, leaves itself wide open to snarky irony. But Kaurismaki grounds the film in the very real poverty of his characters, and every beat of its huge heart is sincere. Jim Jarmusch names Kaurismaki as one of his favorite directors, and it's easy to see why, considering their mutual affection for poker-faced comedy and all things retro-hip, particularly when it comes to rock and roll. Kaurismaki's terrific toe-tapping soundtrack features the obscure sounds of the gone-but-not-entirely-forgotten British beat combo, The Renegades ("Do the Shake"). They were big in Finland.

Cast & Details See all »

  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: This warm and utterly beguiling fable about a man who loses everything only to discover that he never needed much in the first place won the 2002 Cannes Grand Prix, and is actually the second installment in Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's projected "Finl… (more)

Show More »