A middle-aged Finnish man befriends a Syrian refugee in this affecting comedy from indie filmmaking legend Aki Kaurismäki.
Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki makes the driest of black comedies, set in Helsinki dive bars filled with loners, cigarette smoke and the noise of crazy rockabilly bands. His films are gems of poker-faced comic absurdism—poems of expressionless faces and gloomy rooms. That’s 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 dull Finland anyway?
The beauty of the movie is that Kaurismäki also manages to be touching and compassionate. He invites the refugee crisis into his world by twining the story of Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian seeking permission to remain in Finland, with that of middle-aged Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), who decides to abandon his job as a shirt salesman and purchase a failing restaurant after winning a pile of cash at a late-night card game.
The two 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 of it uses tinned salted herring instead of fresh tuna. That sort of wry humor sits alongside a persuasive vision of what it means to be a refugee in these tense times, complete with fascist bullying and threats of violence. It’s a deeply humane film, as well as a quietly hilarious one.
Cast and crew