Aki Kaurismäki's "The Man Without a Past" was one of the 2002 New York Film Festival's true highlights, blooming in the less-publicized shade between the high-profile attention-getters. I have been an avid Kaurismäki fan since 1988's "Ariel," and once again, the Finnish director ("Leningrad Cowboys Go America," "La Vie De Boheme"), closest perhaps to Jim Jarmush in style and laconic grace, delivers a marvelously droll film that's as quiet as it is touching, funny, and sweet. The nameless protagonist, played by Markku Peltola, arrives in Helsinki just to be beaten to near-death by muggers. When he regains consciousness, he finds that he has lost his memory.
Unlike fellow amnesiac Bourne in last summer's Matt Damon vehicle, Kaurismäki's man doesn't possess any exotic martial arts skills or Swiss bank accounts. Aided by the downtrodden of Helsinki, he moves into an empty container with "sea view," plants potatoes, listens to R&B on a found jukebox, and falls in love with a Salvation Army soup kitchen volunteer (Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen). With its sly humor, sparse dialogue, and down-and-out cast, "The Man Without a Past" is one of the warmest and funniest films of the year.
"The Man Without a Past" won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.