Aki Kaurismäki is the first Finnish director to develop a reputation in the U.S. He has received most attention here for writing remote adaptations of literary properties--Hamlet, Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl, Henry Murger's novel Scènes de la vie de Bohème (also the source of Puccini's opera)--and then as director slowing them down, stripping them of affect. He puts them under glass in self-consciously aestheticized form (his black-and-white cinematography can make you regret the development of color), but also shoots them through with a poker-faced, absurdist comic streak. In the place of involving emotional experiences or even developed literary themes you get a fluky-nihilist sense of life as a random succession of quirky, petty indignities, frustrations, fiascos, and desperate crimes.
Kaurismäki's penchant (or gift, depending on your taste) is for black irony played light, which makes it doubly detached: life is seen as a weird bummer but the director is not going to soothe the suffering by taking it seriously. Samuel Beckett's absurdism in Waiting for Godot was also a form of nihilism in which even repetitive vaudeville patter was imbued with a sense of futility. (If speech weren't futile there'd be no need for repetition.) Such works are always fighting against their own urge to communicate with audiences. How do you invite people back for more of the same bad news, especially when your point is that breaking the news doesn't help?
Kaurismäki's latest movie, The Man Without a Past, isn't a literary adaptation but it is of a piece with his earlier work. (Kaurismäki has the consistently recognizable style required for an international art house career.) A man sitting on a park bench, and identified in the credits as M (Markku Peltola), is brutally beaten by three punks and left for dead. In the hospital a doctor lets him slip away, figuring it's better than a life as a vegetable; the nurse pulls the sheet over his head and leaves. You know he's going to sit up in the bed because otherwise there'd be no movie; he then unattaches himself from the monitors that are registering no signs of life, straightens his broken nose, and stumbles out of the hospital. He ends up prostrate again, by the harbor, and is robbed again, but then two little boys find him and run to get their parents, who take him in. The competent, illusion-free wife nurses him, while her weak, alcoholic husband worries and drinks. He comes around, but can't remember anything about his past--his name, where he's from, what he knows how to do.