A man arrives in Helsinki and is severely beaten up, waking later in a hospital with amnesia. In his disorientated state he leaves the hospital and heads out onto the streets in search of his identity.
It's always good to see a major prize-winner from Cannes arrive in our cinemas. Aki Kaurismaki's The Man Without a Past won the Special Jury Prize and Best Actress for the star Kati Outinen. It's another Finnish deadpan melodrama.
A man (Markku Peltola) arrives by train in Helsinki. Shortly after arriving he's viciously set upon by a gang of thugs wielding a baseball bat. He's declared dead in hospital but manages to rip the wires from his chest and leave. He collapses in a down and out area of the city where he's discovered and cared for by a poor but laconically contented family who live in a container. The man can't remember who he is. He rents another container and gets work with the Salvation Army where he gently courts Irma (Kati Outinen).
The Man Without a Past is the second of Kaurismaki's Finnish trilogy after Drifting Clouds, and as with that film, he has a wonderful compassion for almost all his characters, even those who at first don't seem so loveable. There's a stoicism at the heart of these people, despite their apparent impassive natures they make the best of what they've got. The improbable events fit into the mould of melodrama, but the style is so Finnish the performers deliver their lines so lugubriously it's hard to know when to laugh. Working with longtime colleague Timo Salminen as cinematographer, the austere nature of the film doesn't manage to hide the downbeat heart within.
Comments by David Stratton: Aki Kaurismaki is unique in cinema for his heartfelt celebrations of the lives of working-class heroes. Though not quite on the same level as his masterpiece, Drifting Clouds, this is a superb film about a man who loses everything – his name, his memory, his past – and manages to start life again thanks to his own determination, the love of a good woman, and a dog called Hannibal. Superb.