The Other Side of Hope Review
A return to the world of Aki Kaurismäki is always welcomed. It’s a place that offers a sense of familiarity, inviting you into the warmth of Helsinki, crafting an environment that feels as modern in attitude as its retro fixtures are outdated. The Other Side of Hope marks the return of the deadpan auteur, the second film in his trilogy about the plight of refugees. This time he mirrors the story of an illegal Syrian immigrant seeking asylum, with that of an older shirt salesman who is attempting to reinvent his own life.
As in 2011’s Le Havre we start off in a port harbour. In the dead of night, a man quietly emerges from a pile of coal onboard a docked freighter, his bright white eyes the only discernible feature of a face blackened by the ash of the rock. We will soon come to know him as Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a migrant who has travelled from Syria hoping to start a new life away from the war that had destroyed his home and family. At the same time we join Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) packing his bags and leaving his stern looking alcoholic wife to sink deeper into a bottle of vodka. For a brief moment these two men cross each other’s paths: Khaled stepping out in front of Wikström driving through the city before they head their separate ways. Little do they know how their lives will converge only a short while later.
Dialogue is absent from these first ten minutes, led by Kaurismäki’s ability to tell the story of these two men through his characteristic use of low key lighting and the unique construction of this simplistically styled world. Once Khaled begins his application for asylum we learn more about the horrors that pushed him out of Syria and brought him to Finland, losing contact with his sister along the way. Wikström, meanwhile, has a clear plan. Leaving behind his marriage and old career as a travelling shirt salesman, he enters into the eatery business, buying the beautifully rundown ‘Golden Pint’ restaurant, the sort of place you’d expect to see publicly dragged up on charges by Gordon Ramsey.
Similar to the roads these two men travel, it's the journey taken to get there Kaurismäki is concerned with, rather than the details of the minuscule plot. This may be a world far from reality but the story is built around the innate kindness shown towards others when they need it the most. In light of this week’s events, the coincidental release of the film marks it as a theme that couldn’t feel more appropriate. While intimidation and hatred is thrown in Khaled’s path from the very moment he arrives in Finland, when he is out of options, an unexpected sense of community is there to lend a hand. Some viewers may find it to be a little too liberal and cosy for their liking, although quite why a reminder of our shared humanity would be insufferable is anyone’s guess.
As always, the humour is delivered straighter than an arrow, with the precise comic timing we’ve come to expect from Kaurismäki. Small details like the unexplained Jimi Hendrix portrait that rests in the Golden Pint or the salted herring sushi served with scoops of wasabi to a coach load of unexpected Japanese tourists, paint a picture a thousand words could never describe. Kaurismäki’s visual storytelling prowess remains as potent as ever, turning The Other Side of Hope into a timeless fable wrapped around an enduring message.
The Other Side of Hope is out in UK cinemas on 26th May