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A man (Markku Peltola) and his suitcase are attacked by three thugs while he’s sitting on a bench in Helsinki, and left for dead. In hospital, he’s pronounced dead. But he comes miraculously to life, wonders into the streets but suffers total amnesia. He is taken in by street people living in abandoned, rusting containers, and served soup by the Salvation Army’s Irma (Kati Outinen), who takes his gentle and chaste fancy. His incognito is shattered when police question him over a bizarre bank robbery and his photo is published in the paper. His old life now threatens his newer and simpler one.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
We film critics get the best opportunity to see films in the freshest light: knowing little or nothing about them in advance. (Sometimes) With some films - mainly the commercial, mainstream films - there is little lost. But with some films – such as this one – I wish I could avoid outlining the story, even in cryptic short form, because the revelation of each scene after the other is the heart of the filmmaker’s art. Besides, the so-called plot in Aki Kaurismäki’s film is almost nonsensical, at best bizarre, when read out of context. Like many brilliant and visceral, intuitive filmmakers (eg David Lynch), Aki Kaurismäki strings together scenes and images whose impact is beyond those of story. Yet, they are powerful story tellers. This apparent contradiction is a dividing line in cinema. There are filmmakers who tell linear stories with images, and then there are Lynches and Kaurismäkis, for instance.Set in the industrial groin of Helsinki, The Man Without A Past works at a furious inner pace, despite its seemingly languid mood. Kaurismäki makes every scene compelling for its ambiguity and emotional tension, yet the pace is slack, the setting gritty and most of the characters outwardly under-animated. Our anti-hero remains resolutely deadpan, inviting us to project onto him our own private versions of his inner turmoil. There is much in the film that demands discussion and defies explanation, from the metaphors hidden within to the surrealities on the surface. Indeed, the film could equally be titled The Man Without A Future, in reference to the past he left behind, or be seen as a dying man’s final, extended fantasy. But the joy of it is in the soaking up, moment by moment, of a reality that is at once tangible, real, solid - and yet somehow dream-like, imagined, fantastical. The humour is ice cold, but the humanity is warm and the effect lasting. 

Review by Louise Keller:
Cinematic with a touch of film noir, The Man Without A Past is wryly-funny heart-warming tale of a man who starts life again with a blank, but very clear mind. Aki Kaurismäki takes a minimalist approach to tell this story, allowing images and often silences to do the talking. He delights in portraying the ordinary and the devil is in the detail. A man with a suitcase sitting in a train. We don’t know where he is going, nor do we know anything about him. We learn about him as he learns about himself. The humour evolves from the expressionless responses and an unpretentious script. As the protagonist makes his home in a converted shipping container with his newfound companion, a sooky dog called Hannibal and a renovated juke box that plays the blues, rock ‘n roll and rhythm & blues, we get a sense of the simplicity of the life. When he meets Irma, the stern-faced Salvation Army worker and invites her home for dinner, the evening is punctuated by silences. ‘Are you sure I can’t help?’ she asks, as he boils the potatoes and peas in a tin. ‘I think it’s ruined already,’ he retorts. I love the incongruity of the situation when he invites the Salvation Army band to come and listen to the jukebox to expand their musical repertoire. There they are, sitting side by side on a couch wearing their caps and uniforms, tapping their toes to the rhythm & blues. Consequently they begin to play a variance of styles in the soup kitchens resulting in couples getting up to dance. The mood is often melancholy, the characters unexpectedly droll in situations which can only be described as bizarrely ordinary. What we remember most are haunting scenes which give a sense of place, and the small inconsequential actions which are actually of great consequence. Memorable in a haunting and thought provoking way, The Man Without A Past is masterful in its understatement, and poignant in its acute observations of lives that are extraordinary within their ordinary skins.

Winner of Cannes Grand Prix
Winner of Cannes Best Actress Award: Kati Outinen
Winner of Cannes Ecumenical Jury Award
Winner of Film of the Year award from the International Film Critics Federation (FIPRESCI)
Winner of Cannes 'Palm Dog' Award (Unofficial) for best canine performance by Kaurismäki's own pet, Tahti
Winner Grand Prize for Best Film - Flanders Film Festival 2002
Finnish Nomination for Best Foreign Film - Academy Awards 2003

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CAST: Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen, Juhani Niemela, Kaija Parkarinen, Sakari Kuosmanen (and Tähti the dog as Hannibal)

PRODUCER: Aki Kaurismäki

DIRECTOR: Aki Kaurismäki

SCRIPT: Aki Kaurismäki


EDITOR: Timo Salminen

MUSIC: features songs by Annikki Tahti

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Set Design: Märkku Pätila

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne, Adelaide: March 13, 2003; Sydney, Brisbane: June 19, 2003; Tasmania: October 9, 2003

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