The Man Without a Past

Quirky, deadpan, seriocomic portrait of losers living on the edge, from a man who has forged a career out of making such portraits: Finland's Aki Kaurismäki. Though perhaps best compared to American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch in terms of his pacing and style, Kaurismäki is little-known outside of Europe; perhaps his films' dour wit rarely translates into dollar signs for US distributors.

The Man Without a Past – a film no more or less accessible than Kaurismäki's previous work – surprised everybody by not only obtaining a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination, but theatrical distribution in America. As is typical of the director's output, there is a great deal of subtlety and depth in this story of a man who arrives in a timeless Helsinki (presumably present day, but it could just as well be the 1950s) and is almost immediately set upon by a trio of thugs. Their swift, violent attack causes the man to lose his memory. Restarting with absolutely nothing, he manages to survive the slums of Helsinki, using his resourcefulness to establish a new life for himself even if his lack of an "official" identity consistently befuddles the various bureaucrats he encounters.

Lots of dry humor – a scene where an attorney with a speech impediment fights for the man's rights against an astonished police chief had the audience (including this reviewer) shaking with laughter – and a real heart, beating without any affectations of sentimentality, make The Man Without a Past a rewarding experience for the very patient filmgoer.