In the onslaught of this year's substandard films, moviegoers might easily miss a few gems worth seeking out. One is the delightfully quirky and colorful parable The Man Without a Past, from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki. The film, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 2002 Academy Awards, and has picked up several other honors in its world tour, is opening in limited release across the country.

The film opens with a man (Markku Peltola) getting off a train in Helsinki, where he is attacked by thugs. Written off as dead by his doctors, this unfortunate traveler returns to consciousness, but not to his memories. He flees the hospital and lands in the care of a kindhearted family who share their meager meals and the shambles of their home with him. With their help and the ministry of the Salvation Army, the enigmatic "M" finds enough strength and confidence to strike up a cautious romance with one of the ladies who works in the soup kitchen. Irma (Kati Outinen) quickly recognizes a large and gentle heart in the weather-beaten stranger, and she struggles with her desire to know him better and her duty to remain a restrained, dutiful servant of the Salvation Army. Eventually her friendship will be the key to helping M out of the trouble that comes from not having a name or a history.

Peltola, who has the road-weary authority and cool of Johnny Cash, is a wonderfully large and likeable screen presence. He and Outinen make M and Irma a charming couple. At times the camera captures the light of a fairy-tale, teasing us with bizarre supporting characters interesting enough to serve as the subjects of a series of films. One scene echoes The Fisher King directly, as the violent punks return to the scene of their earlier ...

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