Man Without a Past

dir. Kaurismaki

Opens Fri May 23

Cinema 21

The second installment of director Aki Kaurismaki's "Finland" trilogy, Man Without A Past, is striking in its quiet intelligence. Those who revel in action, emoting, quick dialogue or hot actors will fill their shoes with drool by the film's end. But if you're feeling patient and contemplative, the simplicity and oddness of it is like being cinematically cuddled.

The main protagonist kicks off the story by getting severely beaten and robbed, and is pronounced dead in the hospital. Suddenly, he bolts up, and walks out into a bleak Helsinki in which people are dry in speech, but awkwardly compassionate. His memory is completely lost as the result of head injury (in addition to the strain of becoming the living dead, reincarnated, clean-slated; it's symbolism ad infinitum), so that for immediate purposes, he is without name or identity.

Taken in by a scrappy family that lives in a shipping container, he quickly becomes ingratiated in the community. He's utterly chill about the whole memory/life loss thing, and in his difficulties with bureaucratic officials at the employment office or bank, doesn't make a convincing effort to explain or rectify the fact that he can't fill out simple forms. The lack of moaning and hair-pulling suggests the freedom in starting from scratch, a fantastic simplicity that shapes the entire film.

We follow him as he carries on matter-of-factly, getting work with the Salvation Army, cozying up in his own metal container with a jukebox, a dog, and a girlfriend. There's a dreamy quality in all the interactions, which are almost stilted, though sincere profundities are delivered like common pleasantries (when asked by a neighbor what he wants in return for a favor, our hero shoots back, "If you see me lying facedown in a gutter, turn me over," without missing a beat).

Parts of Man are funny, such as the injections of old-time rock and roll that give it a geriatric spunkiness. Simultaneously creating the sense of having captured something essential, the film feels carefree.