Big Finnish

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He has been beaten senseless and memoryless. His name, job, home: gone. When he rents a storage bin to live in, his new landlord warns, "If you don't pay up, I'll send my killer dog to bite your nose off," and adds menacingly, "You won't be able to smoke in the shower."

Life is tough among the squatters of Helsinki. But in Aki Kaurismaki's The Man Without a Past, it's also blessed with stray kindnesses. An electrician wires up the storage bin, and when the Man (Markku Peltola) asks, "What do I owe you?" the electrician answers, "If you see me facedown in the gutter, turn me on my back." A Salvation Army worker (Kati Outinen) gives the Man Christian charity, and a bit more.

The first director to emerge from any country is usually taken as a spokesman for that nation's spirit. It's not until later we discover that, say, Akira Kurosawa was the least Japanese of Japanese auteurs, that Satyajit Ray's films had little to do with India's giddy musical movies. Now comes Kaurismaki, a foreign-film Oscar nominee. How Finnish is he? Do the locals really smoke and drink so much? Are they this dour and deadpan funny?

No idea. But this droll, reticent, flawlessly filmed fable of generosity should draw a wider audience to other films (Drifting Clouds, The Match Factory Girl, Leningrad Cowboys Go America) of the astringently original auteur. Like the Man without a past, they are worth seeking out, cherishing and remembering.