The Man Without a Past

The Man Without a Past ★★★½

"If you see me face down in the gutter, turn me on my back."

When a man (Markku Peltola) is brutally beaten, he loses the memory of everything that came before. With the help of a community of other underprivileged souls with problems of their own he resolutely begins building a new life.

Aki Kaurismaki's signature ability to showcase the best side of humanity by situating people in bleak circumstances and juxtaposing them against some of the worst is on full display here. The man finds himself having to rent what looks to be an old shipping container to live in and to rely on the charity of those around him and the Salvation Army. But giving up is never even hinted at. He gets to work cleaning up his new container, turning it into a home and making friends as he slowly builds a new life. 

The film is often very funny in a sly way (for example the landlord telling his new tenant that his vicious dog Hannibal will murder him and eat him if he doesn't pay on time, when Hannibal is in reality a cute, affectionate pup). Kaurismaki doesn't shy away from the fact that life can be really hard, and that there are no easy answers. He also makes it clear that even in the bad times, there can be heartwarming moments through the film's unwavering belief in community and how deeply empathetic it is toward the characters. 

Hanging over the new life, of course, is the question of what the old one consisted of. I'll avoid spoilers and just say that this question is dealt with in a satisfying way that felt plausible enough to not undo things. The Man without a Past is a great commentary on how sometimes starting from the moment we find ourselves in can be a way to gain new perspective and an opportunity to make improvements. It's a stylish, sentimental and funny movie. I've seen a handful of Kaurismaki's films now, and I appreciate the humanism he infuses them with. This one has left me looking forward to checking out more of his work in the near future.

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