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Geoffrey O’Brien on The Man Without a Past

Aki Kaurismäki, The Man Without a Past, 2002, production still. Irma (Kati Outinen) and the Man (Markku Peltola). Photo: Marja-Leena Hukkanen.

“MY HEAD’S DAMAGED somehow. I don’t even remember who I am.”

“My, that’s bad. Care for a cup of coffee?”

This snatch of dialogue sums up quite well the clipped and unflappable tone of Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki’s sixteenth feature, The Man Without a Past, a movie where, within the first three minutes, the worst has already happened: After a few tranquil establishing shots just detailed enough to let us surmise that a stranger is arriving in a city by train, the unknown man whose acquaintance we have only just made sits on a bench and without a pause is accosted by skinheads, who knock him down, beat him savagely, and leave him for dead.

We encounter him next as a bandaged near-mummy in a hospital ward, his death already confirmed by a none-too-attentive doctor on night duty. Tearing loose from the plastic tubes attached to him, the bemused patient lurches Boris Karloff–style

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