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Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Man Without A Past (2002) - amnesia in Finland!

Fellow film-addict Virginia suggested this film, to go with Jahan Pyar Miley as a double feature. And she was sooooo right. This one is freakily similar to JPM, right down to this:
Who is this man?
Unlike JPM, this one doesnt try to tackle weighty issues (amnesia to solve India’s communal tensions!). Instead, it sticks to examining an amnesiac’s trials and tribulations with deadpan humor – an approach that JPM would have done well to emulate!

We see our hero (Markku Peltola) alight from the train in Helsinki and rest for a bit on a park bench. His short nap is interrupted by three hoodlums who proceed to beat him senseless and leave him unconscious after rifling through his possessions. A badly wounded and bleeding M (we’ll call him that since we dont know his name and the summary at the back of the DVD cover calls him that) manages to stumble into a washroom and collapses on the floor.
Emergency services are summoned and an unconscious M is rushed to the hospital. The high drama co-efficient of the next few scenes can rival the best of Bollywood melodrama: The doctors work hard on M but are unable to save him. The nurse covers M’s dead body with a sheet and leaves the room. After a dead silence for a couple of seconds, the dead body suddenly throws back the sheet and sits up! For a minute there, I thought I had got a supernatural thriller by mistake! Whether its a malfunction in the vital-signs monitoring system or an erroneous diagnosis by the doctor, the film never explains. We do get a resurrected, though highly bandaged M, who gets out of the hospital and takes it easy by the water front.
A kindly family, living in a waterside shack, takes him in and cares for him. When questioned by them - Kaisa (Kaija Pakarinen) and Nieminen (Juhani Niemelä) – it turns out that he has lost his memory and doesnt remember who he is! Nieminen tries to help M regain his memory:
When Nieminen isnt able to hit M, he decides to help the latter get back on his feet. He introduces M to a hilariously bent cop Anttila (Sakari Kuosmanen) and his “ferocious” rent-collector dog Hannibal. M rents an abandoned river-side shack from Anttila and Hannibal is left with him to ensure prompt payment of the rent. The rent paid, Hannibal refuses to go back to her owner (who didnt even realise Hannibal was “she”, not “he”)!
Nieminen and Hannibal arent the only ones kind to M. A kindly soul at the Salvation Army - Irma (Kati Outinen) - also lends a helping hand. She helps him outfit himself in a natty suit and tie and gets him a job with the outfit, too. Though why he needs a suit and tie to lift and carry junk on the water side, beats me!
Irma and M are soon involved in a sweet romance, with him burning steaks for her dinner, and her offering to help. Things are proceeding very smoothly on other fronts as well. He helps the Salvation Army musicians try out old Rock-n-Roll numbers to attract more people to the outfit’s concerts, and is well on the way to becoming an impresario!
M also discovers that he can do metal-work and is promptly hired for the job. Unfortunately for him, this proves to be his downfall. He cant be put on a payroll without a name and a bank account. He goes to the bank to open an account, but gets embroiled in a bank robbery!
But that isnt the end of M’s troubles. He escapes from the aftermath of the robbery, only to be embroiled with the LAW. They take exception to his loss of identity and contend that he could be an illegal immigrant. The poor man lands in jail for forgetting his name!
“Hilarious” is apparently what the New York Times called this film. Though I cant say I was infected by a stitch-in-the-side while watching, it certainly appealed to my sense of the ridiculous. M’s trials and tribulations caused by a lack of name were pretty funny, and the film milked them for all their worth.
Markku Peltola struck me as being a tad too expressionless and Kati Outinen too exaggeratedly deadpan. Only Juhani Niemelä’s hen-pecked Nieminen and Sakari Kuosmanen’s bent cop seemed to strike the right notes for a comedy - I wish there’d been more of those two. There was a great supporting cast though, and I particularly liked the bank robber (Esko Nikkari), the snarky police detective (Pertti Sveholm) and the lawyer who got M out of jail (Matti Wuori). I was also surprised to see several songs, some in English even (one sounded like an old Elvis number!).
I’d call this film more of a satire than a comedy. Whatever its genre though, its a sweet little film and well worth the 97 minutes I spent on it.
Thanks for the recommendation, Virginia!


  1. This sounds interesting. And without that tedious overload about religion being the be-all and end-all of one's existence. Will try to see if my local DVD rental agency has this (I doubt it; their list of foreign language films is woefully small, and mainly restricted to French!) But hope springs eternal...

  2. I love the fact that someone actually thought to cure amnesia in the traditional filmi style. That's really funny.

  3. dustedoff, it won all sort of awards and was nominated for an Oscar as well. Thats probably why I was lucky enough to find it in the local public library!

    Bringing International Film DVDs to India and starting a netflix sort of thing for them should be a pretty good business venture, dont you think?! ;-)

    Cindy, that guy certainly watched movies and learnt from them - unlike Bollywood characters who always fall for Pran/Jeevan/Ajit's tricks and NEVER learn that those guys are VILLAINS!!!

  4. Aw this looks sweet....although I miss the Shashiness of JPM.

    Somehow pudgy Finn ‡ totally hot Pathan

  5. Except that dog is BEAUTIFUL :) WANT.

  6. I read this story in the Health section of the Washington Post and immediately thought of you, Bollyviewer.:-)

  7. memsaab, totally - I missed Shashi too! ;-) And Hannibal was very cute. When he/she was described as a ferocious dog I couldnt help laughing out loud - anything less ferocious couldnt be imagined.

    Shalini, thats an excellent link! I just saw an amnesia thriller yesterday (yes, I AM on an amnesia roll) that could've been explained on the basis of "transient global amnesia" - except that the film was more than 40 years old and movie-medicine was still dodgy (though miraculous) back then.

  8. Yes, I do wish someone would begin a netflix-like venture here in India! I've been a subscriber of for the past couple of years, and though they have a fairly wide range of films, it's mainly English or Hindi, and other regional language films from across India. International films are woefully few and far between! Still, I suppose I should be grateful that at least I can simply book films online and the DVDs are delivered to me. No running about for that!

  9. How bizarre, seeing a Finnish film pop up on my Bollywood blog reading list! Ashamed to admit I've not seen this or any other Aki Kaurismäki film.. Just a few of his brother's (Mika Kaurismäki), which I enjoyed.

    Deadpan, expressionlessness (or subtlety of expression, not sure!) and lack of dialogue are apparently key features in his films and perceived by many as "traits" of Finnish cinema. Not sure if I agree, but I guess the expression does say something about the nationality of the director..

    Tough call. Still, glad you saw this one! So few world cinema watchers bother with Finnish cinema at all.

  10. dustedoff, sounds pretty similar to netflix. I guess they only carry stuff that sells, and International Cinema doesnt have many takers in India, as yet. Delhi used to have a pretty good film-festival circuit (looong ago) and having all the embassy cultural departments in the city was also a big plus as far as International Films went. Is that still so?

    veracious, my adventures outside of Bollywood and Hollywood, I am ashamed to admit, have been very few. Aside from this, I've seen less than a dozen European films - something I would like to change!

    The subtle humor and understated satire in this one was very unlike regular Bollywood (and Hollywood) comedies, and I'd like to watch more. The deadpan expressions may take some getting used to, though! Do you have any Finnish Cinema recommendations?

  11. They do have international film festivals still on in Delhi (usually in the winter) and places like the India Habitat Centre often host similar films... probably it's my laziness, but I barely ever go out to watch them!

  12. Once you get used to the conforts of your own couch and the remote control, it takes a lot of effort to go and watch in the theatre!