In Aki Kaurismaki’s "The Man Without a Past," a man (Markku Peltola) traveling to Helsinki from the suburbs in search of work is hit on the head, mugged and then whisked to a hospital. He has lost his memory. He remembers nothing at all: He has no name, no work and no life to worry about.
Soon enough, he ends up in the slums of a trailer park where the unseen and useless members of society dwell, where people live in horrid conditions with a minimum of things, information or concerns. All that the man discovers and learns there is a little folk music, a few down-to-earth human conflicts, the idea of friendship and, above all, he finds genuine love with a Salvation Army employee.
And that’s about it. Kaurismaki, who wrote and directed the picture as the second part of his "Finland" trilogy, has come up with a plot that is absolutely clean and stripped of any unnecessary attributes, with just a few words here or there. Everything is understood just as it is.
Kaurismaki, Finland’s most renowned movie director, has reached the pure naivete in this film that he has been striving for in many of his previous films. His last movie, "Juha" (1999), was even silent. Kaurismaki creates an atmosphere very close to that of a fairy tale, but always masks the charm of fantasy under a firm, realistic style of straightforward cinematic beauty, with crisp, natural colors and ideally shot scenes. The formula is as simple as that: 100 percent authentic, transparent and definite. And the movie is simply a masterpiece.
"The Man Without a Past" received the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes film festival and is now an Oscar nominee at next month’s Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.