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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Man Without a Past
The Man Without a Past
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // October 7, 2003
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted October 21, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

The Man Without A Past (Mies vailla menneisyyttä) is the second chapter in director Aki Kaurismäki's 'Finland' Trilogy, but don't let that fact keep you from watching it. I'd never seen the first part before either…heck, I didn't even know there was a first part! However, this isn't your typical trilogy format. The underlying theme of the three is more about the land itself than the characters (much like Kevin Smith's 'Jersey Trilogy', but without the fart jokes).

This particular chapter focuses on a man only known as "M" who is violently attacked and left for dead. Upon recovery, he awakens with no knowledge of his former life, and must start over from scratch. While this may seem like nothing new (especially with the success of Memento, The Man Without A Past focuses not on the overall plot, but the complexity and relations between the people "M" encounters. It takes a different road than most American pictures, choosing to see things from a less glamorous light. Instead, the reality of a lost life is taken away, and a man is left with a whole path to travel. Little detail is given about the man before this all happens, and in this way, the viewer can establish a connection with "M" as he starts over.

Another key success in The Man Without A Past is the subtle use of humor to lighten the mood. This isn't your typical comedy, either…it's more of a dry, deadpan humor than anything else, but is quite appealing. Overall, the kind of comedy that will make you chuckle (or at least crack a smile), but not bust a gut laughing. The combination of humor and heartbreak really throws you for a loop, but it's all very moving. This could possibly be considered a "coming-of-age" story, but don't get too caught up in trying to categorize this one. It's very unique in every sense of the word, and is pretty refreshing material after this year's endless stream of sequels and remakes.

Like all movies though, this one certainly isn't for everyone. It's not big on budget or production, and doesn't feature any 'A-List' actors. There's probably a good chunk of viewers who would think the style of humor isn't particularly funny. And of course, those who can't watch movies with subtitles won't have their minds changed, either. If you liked Amelie or any of Wes Anderson's movies (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, or Bottle Rocket), the humor found here might be up your alley. Adam Sandler fans, click the 'Back' buttons on your browser NOW!

Well, unless you enjoyed Punch-Drunk Love. Then you may stay.

If you're looking for a quirky little movie to break up the boredom of Blockbuster new releases, you really owe it to yourself to give this a try…it's a great movie, and hopefully will get a wider audience through this release from Columbia Tri-Star. While this disc sports excellent audio and video quality, there's more to a truly great DVD release than that. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Superbit.

The DVD

Video:
The Man Without A Past sports a very pleasing 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Most of the film sports a muted color palette (typical of most European movies), but certain colors pop off the screen boldly, such as certain articles of clothing. In addition to this, most overall compositions feel quite warm…the color design was obviously a big part of the production, much like the look of Amelie. The print is very clean and virtually free of dirt and grain. Night scenes appear slightly murky, but that's the case with the vast majority of movies. This is great video quality in all respects, and is sure to please fans of the movie.

Audio:
The audio is also very robust in many places, almost surprisingly so. Presented in the original Finnish 5.1 Surround, everything about this movie comes through with great clarity and detail. True, most of the movie is rather subdued (as this is dialogue-driven), but musical cues open up nicely. A particularly ear-opening scene took place at the 55:00 mark, when an upbeat song kicks in…it really sounded great, and only adds to the quality of the audio found here. Another thumbs-up for the disc.

Extras:
Uh oh…sadly, the bonus materials are pretty lacking here. We are graced with subtitles and trailers. Granted, each of the trailers are very entertaining (with anamorphic widescreen and awesome audio, no less!), but where's the meat here? While the audio and video are great, I would have loved to see some more stuff to support this great movie. Instead, not much is provided at all. Incidentally, the trailers include: Winged Migration, Cuckoo, The Endurance, Masked and Anonymous, and Respiro (a recent review by our own Holly Ordway can be seen here).

Menu design and presentation:
The menus are pretty standard still-frame picture of scenes from the movie. No animation or music, just the usual static menu treatment. The navigation, then, is easy to follow (mostly due to the sparse extras). The cover art also reflects the look of the film, and at least lists some of the film's many awards and accolades. Still, I doubt many people will ever see this due to the low-profile release. In any case, the presentation itself is pretty standard.

Should anything else have been included?
It's pretty obvious by now. Language barriers or thick accents aside, I would have loved to hear a commentary track by the director (even in subtitle form), or interviews/cast information. Most of the stars here are pretty unknown to me…while I know where to look for more info, some viewers without Internet access might remain "in the dark" about the wonderful talent on board here. At the very least, hook us up with the trailer FOR THE MOVIE ON THE DISC. Most people don't appreciate trailers, but I love seeing how studios attempt to market a movie…this had plenty of great scenes available, so I'm sure the trailer was pretty unique. The disappointing amount of special features really hangs heavy over The Man Without A Past. Oh well, at least the movie's great, right?

Final Thoughts

Boy, did Columbia Tri-Star miss a golden opportunity here. Like Leon: The Professional (both the International and Superbit versions), good audio and video are provided…but that's it. The Man Without A Past is a very recent release, and no doubt has a few possible bonus materials available. This is a little aggravating, but I suppose we should be happy to see a Region 1 release of this at all. Maybe in the future, we'll see a Special Edition, but we'll have to settle for the movie itself until that point. If you haven't had a chance to see this yet, it's really one of the best-kept secrets of the past year. The Man Without A Past is Recommended for anyone interested in a great off-beat romantic comedy, no matter what language you speak.


Randy Miller III is a part-time cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.
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