This slight but charmingly deadpan foreign comedy from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki stays within an old-school groove. The comedy is quaint and almost corny. A fellow critic nearly threw a fit when the hero befriended a cute dog that follows him around for the rest of the movie. "If this were an American film," my friend groaned, "you'd be complaining about how saccharine it is. Since it's foreign, you say it's touching."
The guy has a point. But The Man Without a Past is able to get away with such things -- making them sweet and, heck, even cute -- because Kaurismäki has an unerring sense of tone control. Like stone-faced Buster Keaton, his laconic actors drift through the trash-ridden outskirts of Helsinki waiting to see what chance and fate throw in their laps. They're outcast heroes leftover from one of Keaton's films, or maybe Chaplin (and, actually, some much better Jim Jarmusch films). Smoking endless cigarettes and trading witty repartee back and forth, they're an amusing cast of resilient, coarse, dead-end clowns.
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