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4.4 out of 5 stars
The Man Without A Past [DVD] [2002]
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2004
As a Finn myself, I'm ashamed to admit I was never a fan of the Kaurismäki brothers until I heard of this one scooping up the awards (or at least nominations, as in the case of the Oscars), and promptly got my hands on it. It is amazing! If this doesn't restore your belief in human nature and and the goodness of life, nothing will. One Finnish critic said it's a movie which "stays with you for many days", and it sure does, making you feel all warm every time you think back to it.

It's part of Kaurismäki's 'Finland trilogy'; the others being Drifting Clouds (Kauas Pilvet Karkaavat) and Lights in the Dusk (Laitakaupungin Valot). The films show you the Finnish society, warts and all, from the viewpoint of the less-fortunate but hard working, whose high moral integrity is being tested by the harshness of the mainstream society. Without any patriotic pathos or, for that matter, too much overt self-loathing, the image portrayed is of a world a bit rough around the edges but still worth the struggle to live in.

I found Kaurismäki's use of technology props to highlight the difference between the well-to-do mainstream middle classes and the movies' characters particularly interesting. Seeing how the characters live in disused freight containers, drive 50-year-old cars (if any), eat potato soup and 'borrow' electricity from the nearby pylons, you'd think the movie is set in the '40s. But every time the 'normal' people feature, there are scenes of modern medical equipment, brand new cars (large new Volvo estate as the taxi which the main character takes in the end), etc. In fact, you can work out a character's degree of wealth and 'mainstreamness' from the amount and sophistication of technology they have at their disposal. A valuable reminder of how even in today's internet and high tech society (and even in a country such as Finland which leads mobile comms etc. usage statistics) there remains a division between the have's and have-not's.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2003
THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST is a wonderful, lonely, and quiet film about M, a man who has suffered amnesia after being beaten and robbed while sleeping on a public park bench in the Finnish capital of Helsinki. He does not remember his name, or know anything about his past. But instead of going on a crusade to discover his true identity, he simply goes with the flow of life. After being pronounced dead at the hospital he wakes up in a deserted industrial area near the sea and is befriended by its local inhabitants. But M soon finds that his attempts to re-enter society is strongly hindered by the fact that he doesn’t remember his name. Instead of being defeated M continues to go about living his life. He eventually rents an abandoned container car and plants a small vegetable garden outside his front door. M develops a new life while leaving the old one behind.
During this film there is a lack of any type of facial expressions or emotions of the characters, even when they are speaking to each other. The dialogue is slow and serious and there is not much action involved. This is what makes THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST a truly unique film. Not many people would appreciate this film with the underlying humor and silences. There is little doubt that this is the best foreign film I’ve seen for some time. My only complaint about this DVD is the lack of special features. I would really enjoy listening to a director or actor commentary of this film. Regardless, this is an excellent film.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 6 May 2004
This is a sweet and charming film, funny and touching in equal measure. The hero is a big hulking Johnny Cash look-a-like, made vulnerable by his injury. Although the story is bizarre, it is entirely believable and you are completely drawn in and care about the characters. I had only seen Leningrad Cowboys Go America by this director, years ago on TV, and this is more polished, but equally funny - laugh out loud in places. Suffice to say that seeing this dvd made me want to see everything else the director has done. And it is the only dvd I've seen that includes the dog in the biography section of the extras.
The film picked up a stack of awards at Cannes, and with good reason.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon 15 August 2007
This Finnish film may not be for everyone. Though nominated in 2002 for an Oscar for best foreign film, I don't think it got much play here. It's a quiet movie about a guy who is beaten in a park in Helsinki right after getting off a train. The hospital thinks he's dead, but he staggers out, gradually recovers, and can't remember a thing. He meets a number of people, most of whom help him in some way or another. He meets a Salvation Army woman and a relationship developes.

It's hard to describe this movie. The dialoque is often funny, but delivered absolutely deadpan. There is no excitement, but a rich development of story and relationships through incidents that happen to the lead character or that he causes to happen. The two leads, Markku Peltoa and Kati Outinen, are adults and look it. There's no Hollywood handsomeness about either of them. The structure of the movie is a gem of economy. One scene ends and the film moves briskly on to the next scene. No extended, unnecessary character development. No superfluous dialoque. It may sound pompous, but this movie creates at the end a nice feeling of mature contentment.

The DVD of the film is crisp and strong; an excellent transfer. There are no significant extras.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2008
One of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's minimalist humanist-mannerist comedy dramas. Here, a man arrives to Helsinki by train from the interior of Finland, and is soon beaten senselessly by some thugs in a public park. He wakes up at the hospital, with bandages round his head (a homage to James Whale's version of The Invisible Man, as some critics suggested?) and with a case of complete amnesia. He is soon called M (another homage to a 30s movie?). He goes on to live in a ramshackle house on the outskirts of Helsinki (I didn't know there was such poverty in rich Finland), working at odd jobs, meeting quirky people and trying to slowly remember his past. Among the friends he makes is a woman working for the Salvation Army (Kaurismaki's regular Kati Outinen, showing here a bit of age). The movie has a lot of the mannerisms of Kaurismaki's movies, but also its humanism. It is quirky, but compelling. Among the best work in Kaurismaki's already long career as a film director.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 18 October 2003
Finland. If you are yet to learn that Finland's finest export is Aki Kaurismäki, you are in for a treat.
Reminiscent of Jim Jarmush but with a distict style of his own Kaurismäki is one of the greatest directors of his generation.
"The man without a past" is beautifully filmed, the music is great, the actors are fantastic but it's best feature is the wonderful deadpan humour. I have never laughed so much at a movie where none of the characters smiled even once.
I left the cinema with a feeling of elevation and pure joy (which kindda ruined my blasé image)
This cinematic gem will leave you wishing that it will never
fin(n)ish.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2005
A rough hewn, not quite middle aged man arrives by train in Helsinki, Finland, and while resting on a lonely public bench three street thugs intent on beating him to death steal his belongings. The man is left for dead by the gang who cover his face with a welder's mask, a clue to the victim's identity. In the hospital, an unsympathetic doctor and assistant try to revive the badly beaten man. But as the heart monitor flatlines (perhaps the only weak moment in the entire film), the doctor comments to his assistant before rushing off, "He's better off that way rather than living like a vegetable." The assistant dutifully covers up the "dead" man and she leaves.
Like the classic horror movie character the Mummy, his head and arm swaddled in bandages, the man suddenly rises from the "dead," and escapes to the desolate waterfront where he collapses next to the harbor. The man is rescued and taken in by the floatsam and jetsam of Finnish society who live in discarded steel cargo containers strewn along the waterfront. Thus begins this film by one of Finland's most distinguished producer-director Aki Kaurismaki. This is a poor but strangely light hearted world where a dinner invitation to "eat out" means standing in the Salvation Army soup line. It's a place where a local residentwho lives in a dumpster complains, "If the garbage strike continues, I'll have to go on a diet, or move."
The hero's Salvation Army love interest Irma, as played by Kati Outinen, is especially good. She portrays a repressed worker who falls in love with the amnesiac. Outinen won the Grand Jury Prize as Best Actress at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival for her stellar performance.
All of the funny scenes are done deadpan, melting together the comic and melancholic into a big hobo's stew that could puzzle some viewers. But if you can get used to the low-affect approach, you'll be charmed by the film's gentle, affectionate portrayals. There are many hugely funny scenes, such as the one in which the Man teaches the staid and joyless Salvation Army quartet to play rhythm 'n blues and rock-and-roll, complete with a huge, aging female singer. There are poignant scenes as well, treated with gentle whimsy by Kaurismäki.
In THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST, Kaurismaki has created for us a simple, mesmerizing story of a working stiff who stoically engages life's abrasions without complaint after having suffered total amnesia. The movie had won a best actress Jury Prize at the 2002 Cannes film festival and was nominated for but did not win a 2003 Academy Award. It should have won an Oscar.
See this film with the original Finnish sound track and English subtitles (which sometimes get illegibly washed out). The sounds and innuendoes are important. No doubt Kaurismaki's masterpiece will go on to become a classic much like those of Luis Bunuel, Ingemar Bergmann, and Akira Kurosawa.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 August 2010
This is a Happy Ending Kaurismaki film: whether he's totally pessimist or in the end he shines a light to his heros.
Perhaps this is the most commercial of all Kaurismaki films and one hell of a good introduction to his films: if you like this one you can go and try the others. Here is all the hallmark elements of Kaurismaki oeuvre: deadpan humor, technicolor similar use of color, loser friendly (but no socialist bent, thank you), rock n roll, finn tango, etc.
It's a kind of strange humor but is beautiful, remind me of Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry. Hitchcock said to Truffault it is a very english kind of humor and many didn't get this film, if you did certainly you will like Kaurismaki's films.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 16 April 2006
The second film in Kaurismäki's "Finland Trilogy", The Man Without a Past examines the theme of homelessness. A man recently arrived in Helsinki is attacked and hit over the head - resulting in almost total amnesia. He has nothing, and has to try to build a life for himself in a strange city. Through the people he meets and befriends he is able to do this - until his past catches up with him... This film is set very much in the same world as the first part of the trilogy, Drifting Clouds. It has the same feel, the same warmth and magic, the same humour - and largely the same cast. It is, though, definitely a cut above Drifting Clouds, and was deservedly awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2002, with Kati Outinen hailed as Best Actress. This is probably Kaurismäki's best film to date and brought him some (very!) long-overdue international recognition - let's hope there's more of the same to come!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2009
One of the greatest films I have ever seen from the Finnish master, and I never say 'master' lightly.

Kaurismaki's opinion that nothing ever good came from the cinema since the early seventies is clearly on show here. A sublime mixture of dry-wit, melancholy, film-noir acting, over the top use of cigarettes (he would later use them even more as a protest to Finland's public banning of tobacco products), and a magnificent soundtrack, together with a very subtle retro feel to the production, in many ways, this is Kaurismaki's masterpiece.
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