A middle-aged Finnish man befriends a Syrian refugee in this dry comedy from indie filmmaking legend Aki Kaurismäki
If you know the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, you’ll know he makes the driest of dry black comedies that rarely put a step further than a Helsinki bar – with a quiffed rockabilly band and pack of cigarettes never far away. His film are gems of poker-faced comic absurdism, full of expressionless faces and gloomy rooms. That’s still the case with ‘The Other Side of Hope’ – but this time the veteran filmmaker’s mind is on the European refugee crisis. In his own idiosyncratic way Kaurismäki addresses this hot topic by asking: why would anyone want to come to horrible old Finland anyway?
The beauty of ‘The Other Side of Hope’ is that Kaurismäki also manages to be touching and compassionate along the way. He invites the refugee crisis into his world, paralleling the story of Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian seeking leave to remain in Finland, with that of middle-aged Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), who decides to abandon his job as a shirt salesman, leave his alcoholic wife and buy a failing restaurant after winning a pile of cash at a dodgy late-night card game.
The men form an unlikely friendship, and Wikström ends up employing Khaled in his restaurant. The film’s comic high point comes when the ragtag bunch of staff try to pull the place back from the brink by serving sushi – although their version uses tinned salted herring instead of fresh fish. Movingly, this sort of wry humour sits alongside a persuasive vision of what it might mean to be a Syrian refugee in Finland, complete with fascist bullying and threats of violence. It’s a deeply humane film, as well as a quietly hilarious one.
Cast and crew