The Man Without a Past

While watching a film it is often forgotten that everything in front of the camera is there for a reason. Lefebvre reminds how the setting should not be taken as merely given (2006b, p.21 ), echoing Lamster who points out that everything depicted on screen “have been carefully chosen, vetted, and choreographed” (2000, p.5). The setting tells its own story and in a sense can be seen as another character. Apposite design colours the film and enriches the story through the chosen interiors, exteriors, and landscapes. As Lamster has stated it conveys “information about plot and character while contributing to the overall feel of a movie” (2000, pp.1-2). Production design is a significant element in film production, Valentine seeing it as “the art of creating vicarious experience” (2000, p.150). Where the action takes place, the location, conveys an extensive amount of meaning.  The Soviet filmmaker and theorists Sergei Eisenstein conceived that the landscape as a larger entity was expressing that what in other terms would be impossible and thus bore many interpretative possibilities. For him, the landscape in cinematic productions enabled freedom from the narrative and was “the most flexible in conveying moods, emotional states, and spiritual experiences” (Eisenstein (1987), cited in Lefebvre, 2006a, pp.xi-xii).

Keeping in mind the importance of the production design as stated above this article looks at its influence in Aki Kaurismäki’s The Man Without a Past (2002), a film whose production designers were Markku Pätilä and Jukka Salmi. The film and this particular Finnish director is an interesting case study in terms of production design since Kaurismäki has a very distinctive style and use of space in his ouevre. In fact, through his films he has created a certain image of Finland, called Kaurismäkiland or Akiland, a highly recognizable world of pokerfaced characters, sparing visuals and stylised settings. Wilson defines Akiland as an uncommon union “between social realism and visual stylization, and between dry comedy and warm-hearted humanism” (Wilson, 2009). In relation to this idiosyncratic style Romney argues that “[Y]ou can usually tell a Kaurismäki film by a single shot” (2003, p.44). Without downplaying the effect of the facial expressions of his dead-pan characters, this immediate recognition by a single shot should arguably mean that the screen design and locations must play a key part, being a crucial denominator that we are in Kaurismäkiland. In this vein, this article investigates the importance of the production design and its execution in The Man Without a Past, paying attention to four key points: the set enabling characterization and social comment, the set as spatio-temporal estrangement and the set conveying nostalgic memory.

The Man Without a Past won the Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival and was nominated for Oscar in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. This humane film spiced up with dark humour is a story of an anonymous man who on his arrival to Helsinki is beaten up and robbed by a gang and, as a consequence, loses his memory. Despite the clichéd theme of amnesia and lost identity, the film is not conventionally about the Man’s search for his past and identity. Instead, it is a story about humanity, adjustment to a new environment and rediscovering love for life. After being found from a shore by two boys, the Man finds shelter and care amidst their indigent family. The family lives in a self-built ‘shipping container village’, or better called a shelter village, a site where the margins of the society live; homeless, alcoholics, poor, misfits. In his attempt to find a job, the Man is pushed to the other side of the social hierarchy; with no memory and no name he cannot apply for a job or ask for social services. The only people willing to help him are his co-inhabitants in the shelter village and the Salvation Army, especially a worker Irma. Kaurismäki underlines the alienation of the modern society where the marginal people are living on the other side of the modern urban society. However, his films are never didactic (Wilson, 2009) and the social comment is highly achieved through the setting and evocative locations which characterizes both the characters and the values of the story.

 The set design was created by Markku Pätilä and Jukka Salmi, frequent collaborators in the cinema of Kaurismäki. Their group effort is seen in films Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana (1994), Drifting Clouds (1996), Juha (1999), and Pätilä unaccompanied in Lights in the Dusk (2006), in addition to some short films. Therefore it is arguable that their work has had a great contribution to the current style of Kaurismäki, who is nevertheless seen as an auteur. Without a doubt, Kaurismäki has a coherent body of work, where consistent themes and iconographical motifs recur and often these films are produced by his frequent collaborators both in front of and behind the camera. However, without forgetting other decisive stylistic factors such as lighting, framing and editing, it is crucial to think how much a film can be reflected and influenced by set designers who are responsible for the overall image of the film. A renowned Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa has stated that the colour scheme in Kaurismäki’s films has become more harmonious and colourful since Pätilä and Salmi have started to work as production designers (Yliruikka, personal communication with Pätilä, February 9, 2011). Wilson continues in the same line, noting how the Finland Trilogy, consisting of Drifting Clouds, The Man Without a Past and Lights in the Dusk, can be seen as a refined step in Kaurismäki’s oeuvre (2009). Thus, despite Kaurismäki has a clear signature style, it is highly questionable that other collaborators could not have an important aesthetic and narrative effect on the film.

 Neither Pätilä nor Salmi has an academic background in production design. Instead, both are originally fine artists and have gained professional skills through restoring old buildings. Hence, both have ‘accidentally’ plunged into film production. For example, in Pätilä’s case, it was a sheer coincidence that Kaurismäki saw Pätilä’s own idiosyncratic flat, liked it to the extent that asked him to become his production designer. Pätilä tells how he starts the work by reading the script and forming mental images where the events could take place, while pondering the overall image of the film. In the case of Kaurismäki, however, the peculiar, eccentric edge has to be taken into account. Pätilä and Salmi never draw the settings; instead they are made with impulsion and spontaneity, and always in their final version (Yliruikka, personal communication, December 18, 2010 & February 8, 2011). The duo is given relatively big freedom with the setting, as they know what Kaurismäki usually wants. They try to create a setting as little budget as possible, and always prefer returning some money back after the production than asking more. Following this method, the materials used in The Man Without a Past were simple and consequently did not demand a vast amount of money. With Kaurismäki, however, there is the benefit that he produces the films himself. Hence, as Pätilä states, “If Aki wants one hundred tractors, I will get them for him”. (Yliruikka, personal communication, December 18, 2010).

Pätilä accounts that when choosing locations, the place has to tell its own story. It has to be expressive; however, to the extent that it does not steal the story. Sometimes a locale may not feel right at the first glimpse, but Pätilä tells that with appropriate props and colours it can be turned into an excellent location. He continues how at times the location is clearly defined in the script, whereas other times it is left as a tabula rasa, and hence, becomes a challenge to the production designer. In turn, sometimes the designer can change the locations determined in the script, as happened in Kaurismäki’s Lights in the Dusk. The location hunt is a incessant activity for a production designer according to Pätilä who reveals always keeping his eyes open in order to spot some interesting locations for future projects (Yliruikka, personal communication, February 8, 2011).

In Kaurismäki’s oeuvre the settings are far from neutral. The use of colour is extremely important, especially in his later Finland Trilogy, where the colour scheme is highly recognizable, dramatic and expressionistic. The bleak background is vitalised through vibrant props, like phones, doors, dishes. As Chauvin (2002) has stated, “[T]his poetic use of color imbues a timeless beauty to stories nevertheless anchored in an immediately recognizable reality” (cited in “The Man Without”, n.d.). Pätilä accounts that he usually tries to find places which already have distinctive colours (Yliruikka, personal communication, December 18, 2010). The vivid, rich colours are juxtaposed with the grim realities the characters have to face, and consequently, contributes enormously to the film’s mood and style by and large. Steven Shaviro compares The Man Without a Past with the melodramas of Douglas Sirk, being “just as stylized and anti-naturalistic, just as reliant on music and decor”. However, the films of Kaurismäki “are stylized by restraint, where traditional melodramas are stylized by excess” (Shaviro, 2003). Romney sees Drifting Clouds, the first film in the Finland Trilogy, as “a very stylised film, which more or less creates its own universe” (1997, p.12). This film preceded The Man Without a Past, and hence, aesthetically these two films are highly reminiscent, a style that continues in Lights in the Dusk. In these films the colours, image and narrative support each other. Romney’s concept of own universe is interesting since the use of the setting conveys a sense of otherworldliness and an escape from grim reality.

In The Man Without a Past Kaurismäki tackles contemporary social themes of alienation and homelessness, making it socio-politically interesting film. However, instead of being a ‘realistic’ depiction in figurative level, it is highly symbolic, achieved through stripped-down acting and dialogue and significantly, through the minimalistic set design. As Lamster has stated, filmmakers use environment “to comment metaphorically on any of a variety of subjects, from the lives of the characters in their films to the nature of contemporary society” (2000, pp.1-2). There is a clear juxtaposition in the representation of the urban city and the shelter village. Interestingly, the marginal place, the container village is bright, humane environment, in contrast to the stark, bureaucratic, modern city. However, given this premise, the film avoids falling into sentimentality and constantly colours the story with black humour. Although a highly stylized place, through the consistency of the characters with their environment and how they communicate with it, and the chosen props bringing history to the characters’ lives, the film seems plausible. The plausibility is also achieved since the setting works well with other architectonic practices such as camera work, lighting and editing, and practices defining the characters, such as costume design.

The urban, high-tech city is mostly decentred despite the story taking place in the Finnish capital; it is seen at the beginning of the film when the Man arrives to Helsinki. However, the panning camera of the dark nocturnal cityscape denies any direct contact with the city and with the buildings. When the city is shown in daylight it is merely glimpses of modern, drab buildings and billboards. Through its austere representation, the city becomes an antagonist and could be seen as a criticism towards the modern Finnish architecture. In the spirit of modernism, the post-war reconstruction in Finland started to replace the old, picturesque wooden architecture, giving direction to monotonous, urban concrete suburbs. Through the restructuring plan given by the government most of the cities now look the same (Stenius, 2009, pp.24-25). Pätilä tells how Kaurismäki is disgusted by the modern Finnish architecture and consequently will not film in Finland anymore; an argument, to which Pätilä could not agree more (Yliruikka, personal communication, February 8, 2011). In the depictions of modern places, a crucial factor is their engagement with vastness. The chosen locations are usually shadowed by bleak block of flats as in the case of the Salvation Army’s soup kitchen, otherwise idyllic, pastoral site with wooden houses; or framed by massive cargo storehouses filled with shipping containers. In the same vein, large cruise ships block the sea view, the connection to the nature. These dominate and dwarf the humble characters that enter the cityscape. In order to emphasize Man’s separation from the modern city, there is a beautiful shot of him sitting on the shore, looking at the city on the other side. The city is depicted through massive illuminated block of flats extending to infinity. Dramatically this scene bears little narrative weight; instead it has importance geographically and socially, delineating the space between the city and the marginal territory.

Throughout the film the city is represented through apathetic and uncaring authorities and their offices, being representatives of the modern life. As Louvish states the bureaucracy “has replaced the world of work and dignity in Kaurismäki’s bleak Europe” (2002, p.24). However, staying away from propagandistic means these representations are always far from concrete reality and this is enforced by the setting. The offices are highly stylized, celebrating the artificiality of the setting. In The Man Without a Past the Man goes to a governmental employment agency in order to find a job or apply for income support. The office is bleak, sterile and compartmentalised, each civil servant having their own, symmetrical booth next to each other. This compartmentalising reflects the characters who are working in these offices and their one-way, phlegmatic mode of seeing and limited horizons. The white bookshelves are filled with grey folders, facing white empty walls, surrounded by workers wearing khaki and grey shaded clothes. Even the red chairs cannot brighten this suffocated, soulless place. This stylised setting here both comments the characters but also draws attention to them, that, it could be argued, would be more obscure in a setting representing a more ‘realistic’ place.

As the Man is denied any support by the authorities there is a quick shot of the modern cityscape. However, it shows grey, dull and monotonous block of flats surrounded by contemporary hub of cars, buses and trams. Much space is left on the upper and lower part of the frame in order to highlight the grey sky and grey asphalt. This juxtaposition of the authorities with the grey environment reflects the modern individual. As Joan Ockman has stated, the modern architecture becomes sterile and reductive, leading to modern, blasé individual. She goes on to cite behaviourists like B.F. Skinner stating how the modern architecture causes sensory deprivation showing the cause-effect: “a dull environment dulled the personality” (Ockman, 2000, p.175). The already mentioned architect Juhani Pallasmaa continues this line. He sees that the modern architecture has lost its haptic qualities and through its homogeneity “reinforce[s] the tiresome and soporific uniformity of experience”. This method of making “the environment entirely predictable is causing a serious sensory impoverishment”. Pallasmaa sees that the modern architecture with its aspiration to “ageless youth” denies any positive aspects of vintage and authority and as a consequence “time and use attack our buildings destructively” (Pallasmaa, 1999). This could not be any more in opposition to the shelter village, where the whole environment bears marks and traces of life, portraying the sensuality of decay and erosion of a matter [Figure 1].


 Arguably The Man Without a Past is a challenge to the set designers; to set the film mainly in the marginal areas of society, find beauty in these places and make it plausible may seem like a difficult task. As Barnwell states “[H]ome is a strong idea with connotations of safety, stability, sanctuary, privacy, comfort and anywhere that has such powerful meaning attached to it can be subverted or harnessed to different ends” (2004, p.42). The shelter village is far away from the conventional, idyllic image of home and safety. However, through the warm colours and ambient it becomes plausible and emotionally affective. The Man obtains an empty container, intermediated by a scoundrel watchman since the previous occupant has frozen to death. Pätilä and Salmi have used warm colours both interior and exterior of the location. Despite their essentially non-aesthetic look, these colourful shipping containers obtain a picturesque quality through their composition with colourful objects like an old bright yellow washing powder carton, rusty drums and flower vases. Their exterior and interior walls bear strokes of paint, giving abstract details, and turn these rugged, hard surfaces into warm haptic experiences [Figure 2]. After the first encounter with the Man’s new home, the squalid container full of old duvets and mouldy mattresses is pruned to the extreme. The dark walls are brightened by colourful props and objects with history, such as an old tapestry, colourful vintage-like plastic and enamel dishes and bright red shabby lamp shades. After deep cleaning and organising, the Man’s new home shines through its minimalism and simplicity [Figure 3]. When the avaricious watchman sees it his comment is all encompassing “it looks cosy here. I should jack up the rent”. These design choices arguably have an effect to the spectatorship; this pruning helps to focus on the essence of the film; the human emotions and humanity amidst the material society and staying true to oneself.



Markku Pätilä tells how the site where the protagonist settles was covered in drawbridges and was in no other use. Consequently, everything had to be built from scratch. The containers Pätilä found incidentally from close vicinity were transferred to the site by big cranes. Whereas Pätilä finds locations relative easily, with the props he may spend days looking for something special and this task is getting more difficult every day. He laments that nowadays charity shops and jumble sales are full of useless objects with extortionate prices. However, he reveals that with the years he has met many interesting people with peculiar collections and thanks to that, he has managed to borrow interesting props to his films. He also garners objects from his friends’ attics and collections. Interestingly, many of the props seen in these films have come from Pätilä’s own flat since he tells living like one of the characters in Kaurismäki’s films, making it relatively easy for him to plunge into the character’s world and settings. For The Man Without a Past the props Pätilä and Salmi found largely from rubbish skips and the surrounding site was full of nicknacks which were taken to the shooting location (Yliruikka, personal communication, February 9, 2011). The construction of the village lasted for several weeks. Fireplaces, cat flaps, balconies, shower, eating area, all were purpose built for the shooting. Whereas the exterior scenes were mainly filmed on-location in Helsinki, the interior shooting was carried out in a studio in Karkkila, 70 kilometres north from Helsinki. Pätilä and Salmi took many of the exterior props to the studio and in order the ‘hoax’ to be perfect, one whole wall and a container end were transported to the studio and were welded back once the studio shooting was over. The walls were made of tin plate which was processed by hydrochloric acid. As staples they used Finnish sweets that the crew was chewing in order them to become soft and hence adhere to the tin plate more easily. If the walls needed to be painted, coffee and clay were used so as to produce patina. Since the containers were just over two metres wide, the cameras did not fit in properly. Hence, Hence, Hfor practical reasons in the studio the containers were built in a way that they could be opened up if necessary and did not have ceilings [Figure 4]. Pätilä and Salmi always work with equal rights. However, with The Man Without a Past Pätilä was mostly responsible for the props and finding appropriate locations, whereas Salmi concentrated more on taking care of the work in the studio since he lives in vicinity (Yliruikka, personal communication, February 9, 2011).


Pätilä has stated that he takes inspiration for his settings from ‘crazy milieus’ and bachelor houses in the deep countryside. His style is also inspired by the years when he was living in Wien. Juhani Pallasmaa, like many others, has an opinion that this Viennese touch can be seen in Pätilä’s designs. The Man Without a Past was influenced by those years for example through colours and the Man’s bare kitchen corner with old, removable kitchen hobs [Figure 5] (Yliruikka, personal communication, December 18, 2010). Pätilä and Salmi were given freedom to create the interiors, while Kaurismäki gave some indication with the colour scheme and the jukebox and the sofa were taken to the setting by the director (Yliruikka, personal communication, February 11, 2011). In the film the beauty comes from objects obtained from rubbish skips and objects in their scarcity. The Man together with his marginal comrades finds an old jukebox that is abandoned in wasteland. The jukebox becomes a key attraction in his home. It enables the film music being diegetic and, it could be argued, more evocative than in the case of non-diegetic music, being chosen by the characters themselves in any given moment in order to reflect their inner feelings, replacing the spoken word. It also functions as a nostalgic memory object and a cinematic cue, given that later is found out that in his ‘previous life’ the Man had lost all his LP- records in gambling.


The domestic bliss is found in the marginal environment. In a stark contrast to the soulless city, the shelter village can be seen as a place where the old community spirit seems to blossom, offering aesthetic and political statements, which Von Bagh (2003) sees as “yearning and idealism for an earlier Finnish vision of life in which one does not desert one’s fellow man” (cited in Pöppönen, 2003). The horizontal, down to earth shipping containers contrast with the vertical block of flats and tower cranes. Without overshadowing the story, the simplicity of the places in the film actually makes them stand out independently, enticing the spectators’ eyes to linger on the surfaces and textural depths of the objects and places. This echoes Lefebvre’s distinction between parergon and ergon, signifying the intensity of a landscape in any given work, whether a painting or a film. Whereas parergon is seen as a marginal ‘accessory’ subordinated to the ‘real’ subject, the event, ergon is an autonomous subject matter of a work (Lefebvre, 2006b, p.23) [Figure 6]. The shelter village is also a place where the inhabitants are in touch with the nature and natural elements; natural sand instead of cold asphalt, fire as seen in various fire places, trees and the sea framing the locale. As Borden (1980) has stated, “[O]ne danger of the architectural wasteland is that is [sic] can be transformed into a “beautiful object”” (cited in Schwarzer, 2000, p.212). In The Man Without a Past the abandoned objects reawaken in the hands of the marginal people, giving them a new meaning. These objects tell stories just as the marginal people through their adversities and obstacles. Consequently, the shelter village with its imperfect forms and matters becomes a locus of beauty. This idea of imperfectness seems to encompass the notion of beauty in The Man Without a Past, as Pallasmaa (1999) has aptly cited John Ruskin (1997)

‘Imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of process and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent […]. And in all things that live there are certain irregularities and deficiencies, which are not only signs of life but sources of beauty’.

However, it is crucial to point out that the shelter village is not constructed as a separate entity outside the drab world. Instead, the blocks of flats and cranes are constantly visible in the background or on the other shore, thus denying any romanticised or utopian picture, constantly staying in touch with the reality.


In The Man Without a Past the setting conveys a large amount of information about the characters, enabling a closer reading of them. As Barnwell has argued, a setting can describe the characters in a way that would otherwise take “pages of dialogue to divulge” (2004, p.27), echoing a French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens (n.d.) who stated that the screen design tells “about the characters who inhabit them before they appear on screen” (cited in Jacobs, 2007, p.11). In addition to the factual denominators the settings can reveal the characters “inner life, desires and dreams” (Barnwell, 2004, p.27). Pätilä accounts that props and setting create past and history that is not mentioned in scripts (Yliruikka, personal communication, December 18, 2010). The Man Without a Past represents the myriad ways people try to find shelter, being it an old container or a shared dormitory. Irma, the warm-hearted but feeble Salvation Army worker and the love object of the Man, lives in a dormitory with other women. Pätilä accounts how they used an old squatted house as the flat’s exterior that was demolished after the film. For the film they used its façade, main corridor and Irma’s main door. The interior of the room was set in an old metal factory, outside which a wall and lights were built as seen from Irma’s window (Yliruikka, personal communication, February 9, 2011). The communal corridor is dark, olive green, echoing the colours on the train at the beginning of the film. It is extremely bare and joyless, the only props seen are grey rugs used to keep the cold air entering beneath the door, a painting, a coat rack with no hangers and a shared landline. Irma’s bedroom is dark, almost as bare as the dorm corridor. The only paraphernalia are an alarm clock, radio, woolen tapestry and a sculpture of a Virgin. Her room is introduced with an accompaniment of an austere organ music which could have been taken from a Christian church service, conveying a stiff atmosphere. However, when going to bed, Irma turns on dated, jovial rock and roll music while gazing outside. Irma’s bedroom reveals her inner world; however, her gazing outside the window and the chosen music clearly distinguishes from her otherwise serene room, pointing to her willingness to explore the world and herself. The thick brick walls and windows with bars encompass her emotional imprisonment and contradict her wish to go to forest, as she states to the Man. Neumann (1977) has stated in relation to silent films, “[W]here nobody speaks, everything speaks” (cited in Barnwell, 2004, p.28). In this vein it could be seen that Irma, who does not reveal anything about herself to the audience except that the Man is her first love, the setting characterizes her and punctuates her loneliness she is trying to hide.

 There is a certain element of spatio-temporal defamiliarisation in the film through its use of setting. As Romney states, Kaurismäki’s films “don’t seem to take place in the present, or in a real place”. Instead, the big cities seen in his oeuvre, Paris, London and Helsinki exist only in his films (1997, p.12). Helsinki seen in The Man Without a Past looks familiar but incredibly strange at the same time, echoing the Man who accounts to his new friend how Helsinki feels strange to him. Although this statement is made in geographical terms, it could also allude to specific national-cultural terms. Crucially, there are no important or famous landmarks to be seen; instead, Helsinki is drab and homogenous and consequently the story could be taking place in marginal fringes in any big European city. Diegetically this placelessness and timelessness is emphasized by the unusual, archaic, region free diction.

In The Man Without a Past time does not exist neither in present nor in past tense. It could be seen as a timeless space where the set design punctuates the difficultness to locate the action in time. As Pätilä states, “[M]emory should be present (…), but Kaurismäki’s films never attempt slavishly to create a specific epoch”. What Pätilä means is that in principle, he and Salmi are given freedom to use “objects from any period whatsoever in the same scene, as long as the object in question has a specific role to play” (Pöppönen, 2003). The ever so important old, vintage props give timeless quality to the film. One iconographical motif is classic cars the characters own, despite their economic situation. This gives a touch of magical realism to the story, crossing economic and temporal borders. There are no connections to modern technology; the offices shine through their outdated machines. When the Man is taken to a police station after witnessing a bank robbery, the station is hardly a modern office. Computers are replaced by a typewriter and a calculator, a mug shot is taken with an antique camera with a separate reflector, while the police officers wear present-day police uniforms. The female lead shares a landline with other residents and no one owns a mobile phone in the land of Nokia, where, for example, just few years before the film was made, in 1998 more mobile phones were owed per person than anywhere else in the whole world (“Suomen sijoitus kännykkätiheydessä”, 2000). Although this makes the space incongruous, it sets no fixed boundaries in time, making it an omnipresent story of humanity and life.

There is a beautiful scene in the early minutes of the film showing the domestic bliss in the container village, even alluding to the pastoral past. The scene starts with a man playing an accordion, followed by a shot of laundry hanging in the air against a blue sky. This low-angle shot shows a woman in an old style floral dress carrying a shabby mug in order to wet the flowers framing the screen. The camera cuts to the Man playing cards with the two young boys who found him from the shore, the accordion constantly accompanying the serene screen images. The boys stop the game to help their homecoming father to have a shower under homemade facilities by pouring boiled water from a big, rusty watering can from the roof to the shower corner made by tin plate and an old drum [Figure 7]. The shower creation was mainly Pätilä’s invention, and hence, this points how the production designer can affect to the overall mood of the film. This scene as a whole could be seen as reminiscent of old films, even alluding to neo-realist films, albeit with humour, just as Romney has compared an earlier scene with the boys carrying a water canister to a neorealist classic Bitter Rice (de Santis, 1949) (2003, p.47). However, the nostalgic bliss is counterpointed by the constantly visible containers where these people live and, as mentioned before, the lurking vertical cityscape, bringing the spectator back to present tense.


This article has tried to show the crucial contribution of the production designers Markku Pätilä and Jukka Salmi in The Man Without a Past. Without taking any credit from the work of the director, it also raises question about the auteur theory. Although the director has the final decision, the overall image of the film is connected to the production design. A production designer brings his expertise to the film, and consequently, the director’s coherent style can evolve with different creators. As this article has shown, a production designer must think the denotations and connotations of locations and props in order them to convey the story. It also requires imagination from the use of sweets as staples to the invention of manmade shower facilities. In The Man Without a Past the setting could be seen as having a double function; through its simplicity and minimalism, it encourage the spectator to pay attention to the characters and their expressions. On the other hand, through this stylization the setting calls attention to itself and becomes another character in the story, directing a certain mood for the spectators. It could be argued that the celebrated artificiality and the defamiliarization in spatio-temporal terms removes the too sombre atmosphere of the film which could have been too overpowering with a more realistic setting and thus gives sensitive distance to the cinematic experience. Alfred Hitchcock, the great cinematographic maestro, to whom the film space was highly important, stated “[N]ever use a setting simply as a background. Use it one hundred percent” (Jacobs, 2007, p.11). In The Man Without a Past the setting and physical environments are not a mere background space, but fulfil a high cinematic and narrative function, allowing characterization and a resonant social comment. In addition to this, the timeless quality of the setting enables a return to nostalgic fleeting times and memories while still holding tightly in the present tense.


All pictures copyright and courtesy of Markku Pätilä.


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Kaurismäki, A. (Director). (1996). Drifting Clouds [Kauas Pilvet Karkaavat] [Motion picture]. Finland: Sputnik.

Kaurismäki, A. (Director). (1999). Juha [Motion picture]. Finland: Sputnik.

Kaurismäki, A. (Director). (2002). The Man Without a Past [Mies vailla menneisyyttä] [Motion picture]. Finland/ Germany/ France: Bavaria Film/ Pandora Filmproduktion/ Pyramide Productions/ Sputnik/ Yleisradio (YLE).

Kaurismäki, A. (Director). (2006). Lights in the Dusk [Laitakaupungin valot] [Motion picture]. Finland: Sputnik.