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"The Man Without a Past"

Directed by Aki Kaurismäki.
Written by Aki Kaurismäki.
Starring Markku Peltola and Kati Outinen.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  5/9/03 


I ventured off the beaten path as I took a recommendation on a film that my friend Heidi pumped to me--the winner of the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, which is making an American run in theaters here right now.

“The Man Without a Past” is this kooky Finnish film about a metal worker (Markku Peltola) that is beaten within an inch of his life in the opening moments of the film while sleeping in a park.  When he recovers, he has no friggin’ idea who he is, and after some hospital time, he gets lost and discovered by what amounts to Helsinki Trailer Trash and nursed back to health.  Months later, he searches out and finds work at a local Salvation Army thrift store, where he meets Irma (Kati Outinen), a cashier at the store who leads a sad, lonely existence when not working at the store and in the stranger finds someone that she quickly, but quietly, falls in love with.  The stranger’s new zest for life after finding work and love motivates him to get involved with a Christian-rock-band-in-waiting quartet that performs for the residents of the economically-depressed region where all the action takes place.

Now, I call the film “kooky” not so much because of the plot as the way these characters interact with each other; director Aki Kaurismaki just does a cool job of making all of his actors’ interactions look a bit off.  From the way the stranger talks to everyone--many long pauses, short answers, free-ranging conversations that cover topics completely unrelated to the situation at hand--to the use of a song like “Shake” during a montage where homeless characters are shown sleeping, or gazing off into the distance, or standing completely still, “The Man Without a Past” produces more “Huh!  INNNtwesting...” scenes than most of the films I have seen this year.  Kaurismaki also wisely incorporates many scenes of dialogue-free interaction between his characters, and the shots of his actors (100% of whom are unattractive, often zombie-like, older and generally un-...well, “movie”) are brilliant in that you really get the essence of a person when they don’t seem to have any make-up on.  They just look plain, and in this plain universe created by the film, it works.

This does lead to some sequences coming off as a bit boring.  I was starting to fade a little bit until the stranger meets Irma a third of the way through the film.  The sets and the design of some of the locales in “The Man Without a Past” just don’t work in many situations, exposing a budget that looks cheaper than it might have been.  And, the logic behind the initial hospital sequence, when the stranger is left for dead because, well, the machines hooked up to him go flatline...and then, he just gets up and leaves the hospital!!--was ridiculous.  Ridiculous!  If the movie wants to be a fantasy, well that’s fine.  But, for an often-dramatic film to have a scene where a guy is left for dead by professional hospital staff and then in the next scene to have him walk out of the hospital in the middle of the day is a bit much.

But, the strengths outweigh the weaknesses here, and you should try to check out this import while you have the chance.  Hey, you gotta do SOMETHING until May 15th, right?

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09