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By Rich Cline | April 29, 2003

Stylish Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki gets almost everything right with this quirky and enjoyable anti-monster movie. In the opening scene, we see a man (Markku Peltola) violently mugged and left for dead. When he wakes up, he hasn’t a clue who he is, and without any identity, he ends up living in an empty container at the Helsinki shipyards. Soon he’s an integral part of the community, with a loyal group of friends, a steady job with the Salvation Army and even a girlfriend (Cannes best actress winner Kati Outinen). Then he discovers he’s rather good at welding. But to get a job he needs a bank account. And he can’t get one of those without a name. But don’t worry; fate lends a hand just when he needs it, in a very unpredictable way.
Kaurismaki films this story exactly like a 1930s monster movie soaked in 1950s color. Every scene is carefully staged, simply designed and starkly lit. The cast is nearly wordless (mostly just sharp jabs of dialog), expressing everything beautifully with their faces, creating characters we quickly identify with and care about. Even the more nasty people have layers–some we see immediately, others that come out later. They’re all remarkable characters, and the script makes them into authentic, compelling people. And even though they are dirt poor, they have real dignity–generosity, true friendship.
Meanwhile, the story pulls us forward very steadily, full of unexpected and often very funny twists and turns, as well as offbeat little scenes that add texture and rhythms (the music is absolutely fantastic!). This is a very simple story, but it builds beautifully to an endearing and witty romance. Like one of those achingly beautiful old horror flicks … with a happy twist and no horror at all.

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