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Best of 2002: Movies, Books, Music.
Best of 2003: Movies.
Best of 2004: Movies, Books.
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Sunday, May 04, 2003

The Man Without a Past
Funnily enough, after a weekend spent immersed in music (listening to it and making mix CDs, but also celebrating the arrival in my mailbox of the magazines Songlines and fRoots and the purchase of Jockey Slut), today I went to see a movie where even the most deprived corner of the world is suffused with music—a fat dude tinkles the ivories of his accordion outside the shipping container home of the poorest but kindest family in the world ™, the Salvation Army band serenades soup kitchen diners, the world’s most evil thugs ™ turn on the radio to accompany their senseless beating of a down and out, and lonely people listen to tunes as they go to their single beds. The saddest moment in the movie is when one of a soon-to-be-cruelly-parted couple says, “Let’s just sit quietly for a few minutes.”

I still don’t know what to make of the beginning of Aki Kaurismäki’s Man Without a Past—the main character is inexplicably beaten so viciously that he flat-lines in the emergency room—an end that’s for the best in the judgment of the jaded medical team not-all-that-mercifully tending him—but as soon as they leave the room, he sits bolt upright, resets his destroyed nose, semi-dresses, and staggers off to the Helsinki “beach”—a part of town where the lost layer of society ekes out a living bunking in shipping containers, going out to dinner at the Salvation Army soup kitchen, and not saying a whole heck of a lot.

It’s a very spare film—the characters don’t waste words, and, apparently incapable of lying, they find themselves shut out of a “society” that requires names and numbers, no matter how fictional—absurd and heart-warming without driving viewers for their hankies. For me, watching Finnish movies is like watching Iranian movies: I enjoy the experience, but all the time I’m in the cinema I’m intensely aware that I’m having an iceberg experience—at least 75 percent of the movie’s meaning and symbolism is lost on me.

The film’s official Web site is fascinating—full of irony (I think; I’d hate to play cards with a Finn; they seem to wear their poker faces 24/7/365!) and factoids. For example, the actress who plays the thrift-store manageress and sings incongruously with the rockabilly Salvation Army band has been recording for 50 years and was the first Finn to earn a gold record. Also, the dog that played Hannibal is the daughter and granddaughter of dogs who starred in earlier Kaurismäki movies.

Oh, but talking of movies, we’re only four days away from the unveiling of the Seattle International Film Festival schedule, and the teases from the press screening announcements have been driving me crazy. On Tuesday night there’s a special preview night for Cinema Seattle members, but I can’t decide whether or not to go. If the actual schedule isn’t revealed, it might be even more frustrating to get tiny glimpses than to be almost completely ignorant until Thursday morning when all is revealed. It’s the only day of the year I buy the Seattle Times—and I throw away the rest of the paper as soon as I’ve grabbed the SIFF pullout.