Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki’s serious sense of social compassion doesn’t get in the way of great dark jokes in The Man Without a Past. In this delicate, deadpan comedy about homelessness – a best-foreign-film Oscar nominee – a man who lost his memory during a mugging (Markku Peltola) creates a new life for himself on the fringes of Helsinki. It’s the fringe-folk who help him: the poor family, living in an abandoned container by the docks, who feed him soup; the shy Salvation Army worker, Irma (Kati Outinen), who feeds him hope.
Irma’s not as dour as she looks, however; no Kaurismäki character ever is. At night, in the privacy of her tiny room, for example, she blares rock & roll on her radio. Indeed, the message, if there must be one, of this marvelous, stubbornly personal movie is that there is a spark in every soul. And that music is as important as soup. And that there is beauty to be found even in the colors of a shanty picked out against the scudding clouds of Helsinki.