From watching European films, one would get the impression it is an easy thing to wander off a train in a strange town, find someplace to live, get a job and a girlfriend, all while experiencing amnesia. If these exact things haven’t happened in films besides “The Man Without a Past,” events similar to them certainly have. It’s that European sense of whimsy and surreality that we Americans find so quaint. That, and the funny accents.
I have already told you the plot of “The Man Without a Past,” a pleasant, trifling little movie written and directed by Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki. The man in question, whom the film calls M (Markku Peltota), comes by the amnesia via a severe beating he receives at the hands of Finnish ruffians immediately upon disembarking the train. Have the Finns allowed their train depots to become targets for hooligans? Helsinki always struck me as such a sedate, friendly place. But I guess Kaurismaki knows the city better than I do, considering he lives there and I’ve never even visited. If he says people get jumped for no reason other than that they just got off a train, so be it.
Anyway, M can’t remember anything, which makes it hard to get a job, which leads to him taking up residence in a shack on the outskirts of town with a very nice family of poor people. “Let’s go out to eat,” they say, and they all go to the Salvation Army’s soup kitchen.
It is there that M meets Irma (Kati Outinen), a lovely Salvation Army volunteer whom he becomes attracted to. They flirt; they date. Along the way M finds an abandoned jukebox, encounters the world’s friendliest attack dog, and just generally has the sort of misadventures people always have in these mildly wacky European films. You don’t laugh a lot at the movie, but you do maintain an agreeably bemused stance.
Marku Peltota is a middle-aged, craggy-faced protagonist with a likable demeanor. The film hints playfully at themes of rebirth, even referencing rebirth movies like “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy” in the way M rises from his near-dead state after the beating, and Peltota is up for any shenanigans Kaurismaki sees fit to throw his way. It’s a film you’ll enjoy, even if, M-style, you forget all about it afterward.
B (1 hr., 34 min.; Finnish with English subtitles; )