Thursday, September 14, 2006

10. Aki Kaurismaki's Finnish film "Mies vailla menneisyytta" (2002) (A Man Without a Past)--Reducing the world into a man, a woman, a dog and trains

This movie is deceptive--a casual viewing could discard it as another "feel good" film from Europe.

It permeates Christian values without sermons, priests, or any religious hard sell (a small poster of Christ in a booth of the Salvation Army is an exception). Philosophically, it presents Tabula Rasa or a clean slate to begin life anew. The film tends to be absurdist (not even a moan emanates from brutalized victims of violence, broken noses are twisted back painlessly, victims of violence emerge from shadows to mete out justice). The film recalls shades of the brilliance of Tomas Alea's early Cuban films and the humanity of Zoltan Fabri's Hungarian cinema.

The film presents entertainment of a kind that would be alien to Hollywood--a cinematic essay on human values that seem to be a rare commodity the world over. There is no sex; there is no need for it. The poor who live in garbage bins and in empty containers, are rich with pockets full of kindness, helping each other without any expectation of a reward. The rich and powerful (the ex-wife and her lover, the policemen, the hospital staff, the official who rents out illegal living space) seem bereft of true feelings or any human kindness. The poorer sections of society (the electrician, the restaurant staff, the family who nurses the main character, the Salvation Army staff) do good to others, care about others and expect nothing in return.

The film is an affirmation of Christian values without preaching religion. The main female character in love with the man, is ready to sacrifice her love because she genuinely respects marriage vows and even brings a "train" schedule to send off her lover to his wife. The art of giving is sanctified. A man who employed workers believes in paying his workers, even if it meant robbing a bank to do so. A lawyer argues a case well because he likes the Salvation Army. Symbolically, even half a potato among six or eight harvested is given away to some stranger wanting to eat it and avoid scurvy! Again, symbolically there is rain on a clear day to help grow the few potatoes...

The film provides humour of a quaint, Finnish variety. A timid dog that eats leftover peas is called Hannibal--a male name one can associate with a king or even the cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter--even though the dog is female. There are swipes taken against the government and its associated machinery (antiquated laws, North Korean buying Finnish banks, retirement benefits, strikes and strikers, bank staff, corrupt banking practices).

Trains play a crucial role in Kaurismaki's screenplay. It begins and ends the film. It also punctuates the film, when the past is revealed, briefly.

There are possible flaws in the film--the blue tint when the children spot the injured man. The unexplained Japanese dinner with Sake and Japanese music on the train. The significance of the cigar in the script is elusive. The choice of songs, however good, seem to be haphazard.

The script is otherwise brilliant. In glorifying the detritus of society, Kaurismaki seems to affirm there is indeed a link between the tree and falling dead leaf (with reference to a comment by a character in the movie). The train moves on. Forward, not backwards!

Minimizing the world into a man, a woman, a dog and trains, Kaurismaki serves a feast of observations for a sensitive mind--a tale told with a positive approach to move on and seize the day. It is a political film, an avant garde film, a comedy and a religious film, all lovingly bundled together by a marvelous cast.

Finland should thank Kaurismaki--he is her best ambassador. He makes the viewer love the Finns, warts and all!


Peter said...

I really like Aki Kaurismaki's films, and Man without a Past is one of my favourites.

I was reading your list of films on Iain Stott's Beyond the Canon. It's nice to see another fan of such gems as Fraker's Monte Walsh, Kheifits'The Lady with the dog and Melville's Le silence de la mer. I love the films of both Melville and Kaurismaki.

Jugu Abraham said...

Hi Peter,

Thanks for writing in. I am sure more people will like the films you mentioned, if they got to see them.

I note that you are a Joyce fan--so am I.

Check out the 2009 Irish film "Nothing Personal" by a Polish director Antoniak, made with funds from the Irish Film Council. I reviewed it on my blog some days ago. I rate it as one of the finest films made this year (2009).


Jugu Abraham

Peter said...

Hi Jugu (is Jugu your first name or surname?)
I am a fan of Joyce. I see that you are a fan of Leonard Cohen. Me too. I saw him twice recently in live concerts. The first was a brilliant open air performance. I like his novels too. Well worth reading.

I'll check out that film you recommend, "Nothing Personal".

I quite enjoyed Ken Loach's "Looking for Eric" earlier this year.

Jugu Abraham said...

Hi Peter,

"Abraham" is my surname.

I was not aware of Cohen as an author of novels. Will look for his books for sure. Thanks.

Missed Loach's film by a whisker. It was shown at the festival here (14th IFFK, Trivandrum) but the timings clashed with other films that I wanted to see.


Peter said...

If you like Aki Kaurismaki's films, another film I like very much and would recommend is Roy Andersson's "Du Levande" (You the Living)

Anonymous said...

Scampi Kaurismäki, is a chilling vocalist from Helsinki. Following in her fathers footsteps, she and her partner Ash Gray make "avant guard" film and music. They call their project "ASKE".