"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
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: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$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
"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 bad...man, 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
"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