Monday, October 09, 2006

The Man Without a Past (2002)

The Man Without a Past (Aki Kaurismaki, 2002)
Finnish Title: Mies vailla menneisyyttä

Aki Kaurismaki's The Man Without a Past is so disarmingly simple that it's such a treat in our present cinematic world that fetishizes in complex convoluted plot lines and stories that are grounded upon unexpected twists and turns. If it weren't for the stylish use of colors and the droll yet motivated blankness of Kaurismaki's visuals, The Man Without a Past would be convincing as a 50's Hollywood film. Also, Kaurismaki's humor can be traced to Jim Jarmusch rather than the comedic geniuses of the golden age of Hollywood cinema.

A man (Markku Peltola) is mugged and left as dead by a band of thugs. He awakes, wrapped in white bandage, and the first thing he does is to fix his broken nose (a rather funny note as Kaurismaki would be using Peltola's prominent nose through the numerous profile shots that pervade the film). The man turns out to be like the invisible man who unwraps his bandages and learns that he is as transparent as air. Instead of the curse of invisibility, the man is cursed (or gifted) with the sudden disappearance of his memory. He moves in an empty container van near the ship docks of Helsinki, and starts to work as a crew for the Salvation Army, where he meets and falls in love with Irma (Kati Outinen).

It's a funny predicament the man lands himself into. He is consistently bullied by the head honcho of the homeless community, with a female dog named 'Hannibal.' The local chapter of the Salvation Army plays routine music that is much too old and safe for the tastes of the miserable denizens of the container vans. Even his girlfriend Irma is a perpetual virgin, morose and manly when wearing her outfit, and still morose but rises a few notches in terms of femininity whenever she's in casual wear with the titular amnesiac. Kaurismaki doesn't go for hilarity. Instead, he persists in deadpan humor, letting the absurdity of the scenario seep into his audience's cognition which in turn, brings about well-earned chuckles. The dialogue is slight, but that adds to the mysterious charm of the film which somehow survives with the cleverness and ingenuity of Kaurismaki's directorial designs.

Kaurismaki intends to end the film with a subtle twist --- a throwback to the cleverer sci-fi features of classic Hollywood --- and ultimately happily concludes the unfortunate tale of the man. It's a worthwhile film, despite the fact that the plot plays out like a straightforward feature which is absolutely devoid of contemporary notions of climaxes. Instead, Kaurismaki draws out interest by staging even more absurd scenarios out of the already absurd groundwork that he has mustered. A bank robber steals his money from the bank, and then asks the man, to deliver the money to the unpaid laborers which he has neglected to pay --- that is just one of the paradoxical statements that glue this film of virile paradoxes. Each of these little scenarios, little scenes, bring about a conclusion that makes you want to watch the film again to see the subtle nuances Kaurismaki placed in the film.

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