The refugee crisis has shaken Europe to its core. It has reconfigured the political landscape as well as the moral one and has claimed thousands of unnecessary casualties. So when Finnish auteur, Aki Kaurismäki announced he was making a comedy about a refugee’s journey into Finnish culture, there were many appalled sceptics who were eager to see him crash and burn.
The Other Side of Hope tells the two intertwined stories of Khaled (Sherwan Haji) and Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen); the former is a Syrian refugee fresh to Finland, the latter is a middle-aged Finn burning through a midlife crisis. Wikström leaves his wife, gambles his savings away and is left with just enough to buy a failing restaurant run by three ne’er-do-wells. The struggles the two men endure are equally absurd but convey a disturbing double standard.
Khaled is searching for his sister, whom he lost en route from Aleppo. Along the way he is harassed by the police for telling them the truth and fascist thugs for leaving the camp. Meanwhile, Wikström takes his time deliberating over experimental cuisine and making changes to his doomed restaurant. When their two paths cross the real action begins, as the director unveils a procession of poignant gags that reveal his unique skill for melancholy, dead-pan wit.
The auteur’s style is fully articulated with confidence – the dimly lit interiors like Hopper paintings, the penchant for retro 50s costumes and cars, the laconic performances. The back and forth connection of both protagonists creates indelible moments of tragic irony and absurd comedy.
The morose welcome Khaled suffers is assuaged by moments of lightness and earnest humanity that are rendered more powerful because of the bleak world they shine through. The comedy never undermines the character’s struggle but is used as a weapon to jeer at the bigoted Finns who are confused and frightened by change.
The Other Side of Hope manages to be both aloof and warm, immediate and distant, bleak and sentimental; thus cementing Kaurismäki’s position as a master of contradictions. His latest feature is a stylish and intelligent fable that seduces the audience while at the same time refusing to be anything but boldly modern.
Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope) is released in selected cinemas on 26th May 2017.
For further information about the 67th Berlin Film Festival visit here.