The Man Without a Past (2002)

The Man Without a Past (2002)

Compassionate filmmaking and wry humor make this another delightful, heartwarming watch from Finland’s powerhouse director

The Very Best



Finland, France
Comedy, Drama, Romance
Andrey Chernyshov, Anneli Sauli, Antti Reini
97 min


Admittedly, the competition isn’t fierce, but this features cinema’s most lovable character named Hannibal ever.

What it's about

Knocked unconscious after a robbery, a man wakes up with no memory of his former life and must start afresh in an unfamiliar world.

The take

The magic of this movie — and every other one directed by Aki Kaurismäki — is in the way it inspires so much hope despite the darkness of its subject. When a man (Markku Peltola) is beaten and robbed one night, he wakes up without any memory of who he is. Forced to start life all over again, he’s subjected to yet more cruelty at the hands of a greedy slum landlord and callous authorities, but finds sympathy and support from his equally downtrodden neighbors. Though the street thugs have emptied his wallet, the unquestioning generosity of the people around him suggests he’s now richer than he was at the film’s outset — as does the sweetly simple romance he strikes up with a lonely Salvation Army worker (Kati Outinen). 

Kaurismäki doesn’t just make films about the disenfranchised for the sake of it: he shows us how easy — and yet momentous — acts of human kindness and solidarity can be, how radical they are in a bleak world. It’s not often a movie can so persuasively reassure us of people’s inherent goodness, but it’s even rarer still for it to be done with as much deceptive, charming simplicity as here.

What stands out

Movies as humanist and compassionate as The Man Without A Past can sometimes skew a little self-serious, but not a Kaurismäki film. The Finnish director uses his characteristic deadpan humor and surreal touches to lighten the film up: a standout moment might be the intimidating introduction of an attack dog named Hannibal who is, in fact, nothing but a sweetheart (the pup actually won Cannes’ Palme Dog award for her adorable performance here). Part of what makes Kaurismäki such a master is that, as ever, all this drollness never undermines the profound tenderness of the story.

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