"Since there is no hope left in the world, I tried to make a hopeful film without too much pessimism, because everything is kind of wrong nowadays." -- Aki Kaurismäki
Markku Peltola plays a welder who is beaten and robbed after stepping off a train to look for work in Helsinki. Referred to as M, he barely survives and loses all memory of his past. Without any material resources, he slowly picks up the pieces and restarts his life among homeless and eccentric squatters on the outskirts of the city. M has to rely on help from generous local residents and obtain charity from the local Salvation Army. In the process, he meets and falls in love with a dour Salvation Army worker named Irma (Kati Outinen).
Renting his quarters from a droll security guard, M acquires a "monstrous" dog named Hannibal, renovates a jukebox that plays American rock music and blues, then turns a bunch of square Salvation Army musicians into a rock band. In another incident, he is arrested as a suspect in a bank robbery only because he was in the bank at the time and could not verify his identity. He later meets with the newly compassionate bank robber, who asks M to use the money he took from his frozen account to pay back people who worked for him.
The Police finally track his identity down after his wife contacts them in response to posters and he returns home to discover that they are divorced and she has found another man. The film ends with M and Irma walking off hand in hand after he returns.
I found this film utterly charming to watch, it has a slow pace which allows the story to build in a simple way, much like a friendship. The actors deadpan delivery of their lines increase the humour contained in them and the touching search for love and compassion in the darkest of times is dealt with in a light way that reflects the modesty of the characters.
Moments of genius for me are contained in the insight into Irma shown in her first bedroom scene. An almost nun like cell is shown in a Salvation Army hostel in which Irma keeps her few possessions. She is dressed in a floor length modest nightgown and approaching her spartan iron bed with a thin mattress you expect her to sit and pray - instead she reaches out and turns on her radio and you hear not the expected Handel's Messiah but Rock and Roll!!
This theme recurs with great effect throughout the movie, another high point being the Salvation Army band crowded onto a sofa sitting opposite M while the jukebox plays Rock and Roll. One by one their feet start tapping and their hands start to drum the rhythm as though the music itself is catching, they are experiencing a musical Road to Damascus.