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Directed by
Aki Kaurismaki
97 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Man Without A Past

Synopsis: Shortly after arriving in Helsinki, M (Markku Peltola) is attacked by skinheads who beat him and leave him for dead. He recovers but has no memory of who he is. He finds a home amongst the dispossesed dwellers in some waterfront railyards and begins to build a new life, encouraged by a Salvation Army officer (Kati Outinen).

If Jim Jarmusch and Mike Leigh were ever to collaborate on a film it might end up something like The Man With Without A Past –  asocial conscience movie served cold with hipster irony and a catchy r’n’b soundtrack.

This, Kaurimaki’s 13th feature, won the 2002 Grand Prix at Cannes, and has won many other awards but not it is not my favourite of his works. As is so often the case, recognition only comes to an artist when his style has become a manner. Nevertheless it’s great to see that recognition has come and I’m sure a lot of people will go to see this out of curiosity. Those not familiar with his work (his previously best known work is Leningrad Cowboys Go America, 1989) will probably get a surprise. Those who are, won’t.

The familiar aspects are all here – the existential drabness, the visual spareness, the poker-faced humour, the inanimate performances, the rock n’ blues music - and the great affection for his nobody characters. For me, Kaurismaki has fashioned a story that too closely represents the emotional and social estrangement which is his bread and butter - I’d prefer a lighter touch - but what continues to ravish is the visual style.

Kaurismaki (with his long-time cinematographer, Timo Salminen, a Jack Cardiff to the director’s Powell and Pressburger) carefully crafts wonderful, painterly, hyper-real compositions with moving parts (his actors, who are manipulated like marionettes). Every scene is a wonderful two dimensional pattern of colours and shapes given three-dimensional depth by the deft use of light and shadow. The result is De Chirico meets B-grade – a dreamlike state of suspended animation. Kaurismaki has clearly studied low-budget Hollywood film and skilfully incorporates many of its stylistic devices, adding another dimension to his ironic pose. "Pose" is what this film is about but it is a thoughtful pose that accentuates his love of the marginalised and the rejected. Both his leads are completely right in this respect.

The Man With Without A Past is up for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film but the likelihood of that happening, is about as great as John Cooper Clarke joining Take That (the Oscar went to Nowhere In Africa).




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