THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Screenwriter: Aki Kaurismäki
Runtime: 98 mins.
Australian release date: 29 March 2018
Previewed at: Verona Cinema, Sydney, on 1 June 2017.
Two stories about two very different people from two very different cultures ultimately intersect in Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s entertaining and uplifting film The Other Side Of Hope, a product of his own clever and highly original script. His trademark lack of sentiment and deadpan delivery is once again on show in this gravely funny (you’ll know what I mean when you see it) film about the trials that life throws at people and how some of us have the innate ability to rise to the occasion of these challenges. Regrettably, at the age of 60 Kaurismäki has declared that this movie will be his last. I, for one, will be very sad if this is the case; it would be a great loss to cinema if this unique and unusually humanist filmmaker was lost to us.
Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a young Syrian refugee from Aleppo, smuggles himself into Helsinki on a coal ship and immediately seeks asylum, stating that, “I want to stay here. This is a country with no war.” Hard to argue with that, you’d think, but the authorities find differently and decide that it’s safe for him to return to Aleppo, so Khaled goes on the run. He’s determined to stay because he is hoping to reunite with his sister, from whom he was separated in their flight from Syria. At around the same time, travelling salesman Wikström (one of Kaurismäki’s favourite actors, Sakari Kuosmanen) is experiencing a mid-life crisis of sorts and leaves his wife and job to buy a failing restaurant, The Golden Pint. The fact that he knows nothing about his chosen profession doesn’t deter him in the slightest. One night, while putting out the garbage, these two wildly different men meet and form an unspoken bond when Wikström offers Khaled the position of dishwasher and general dogsbody. And, in something of a Kaurismäki tradition, there is indeed a dog, a stray that has taken up illegal residency in the restaurant’s kitchen. His new role brings the young Syrian immigrant into contact with some of the best and worst of the Finnish public.
The ensemble cast is uniformly terrific and a number of them are familiar faces from previous Kaurismäki films. As in all his movies, hysterics and over-the-top sentiment are rarely on display, regardless of the situation. His actors deliver their lines in a laconic, flat style so you have to pay attention to get the most out of the screenplay’s witticisms. Another trademark of his films is their mis-en-scène; there’s often a retro ‘look’ to them. It’s a kind of timeless world that he creates. There may be mobile phones but they’ll be seen alongside outdated electronic equipment, old typewriters and the like. Aurally, there’s always music in Kaurismäki movies, usually jazz, blues and rock, and The Other Side Of Hope is no exception. Listen out (and look) for some great performances from buskers and street musicians as the characters travel about Helsinki.
The last word should go to the unconventional director, who says: “With this film, I try to do my best to shatter the European* way of only seeing refugees as either pitiful victims or arrogant economic immigrants invading our societies merely to steal our jobs, our wives, our homes and our cars. In European history, the creation and enforcement of stereotypical prejudices carries a sinister echo. I freely admit that The Other Side Of Hope is, to a certain degree, a so-called tendency film unscrupulously attempting to influence the views and the opinions of its viewers whilst trying to manipulate their emotions in order to reach that goal. Because these efforts will naturally fail what will remain is, I hope, an upright and slightly melancholy story carried along by humour, but in other ways [an] almost realistic film about certain human destinies here in this world, today.”
* Feel free to insert ‘Australian’ here!
PS. If you weren’t previously familiar with Kaurismäki’s work and are intrigued after watching The Other Side Of Hope, you’ll be happy to know that there will be a retrospective of this most distinctive director’s films in Sydney and Melbourne later this year.