Takes a while to set off, but when it does, the film is Kaurismäki at his deadpan comedic best, with a touch of empathy for its characters.
Dir. Aki Kaurismäki
2017 | Finland | Drama/Comedy| 100 mins | 1.85:1 | Finnish & English
PG (passed clean) for some violence
Cast: Sakari Kuosmanen, Sherwan Haji, Kati Outinen
Plot: A poker-playing restaurateur and former traveling salesman befriends a group of refugees newly arrived to Finland.
Awards: Won Silver Bear – Best Director (Berlin)
International Sales: The Match Factory
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed at the Singapore International Festival of Arts ’17 – first published 14 Jul 2017)
According to Aki Kaurismäki, this is his last film. If that’s the case, it is not a bad way to end a fascinating career in cinema. Often regarded as Finland’s finest filmmaker by virtue of his ubiquity in major international film festivals, Kaurismäki’s works have enchanted and enlightened art-house audiences around the world. His latest, The Other Side of Hope, won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival, his biggest award since The Man Without a Past (2002) took home the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
In The Other Side of Hope, we get two separate narrative threads that meet past the midway mark. One centers on a Syrian refugee who ‘finds’ himself in Finland after a long, arduous escape from his war-torn country. His name is Khaled, played by a stoic Sherwan Haji in his acting debut. Unfazed by his own situation—he tries to seek asylum with mixed results—and worrying more for her lost sister, the only family he has left, Khaled finds himself just barely struggling to integrate himself to a new land, one that birthed largely compassionate folks and a handful of violent supremacists.
“I don’t understand humour.”
The other thread revolves around Wikstrom, a restaurateur played with poker-faced precision by Sakari Kuosmanen, which is funny because his character actually plays poker in an extraordinary high-stakes sequence at the end of the first act. Incidentally, it is also a sequence that finally allows the film to achieve some kind of flight, after a first half-hour in first gear. The Other Side of Hope may take a while to set off, but when it does, it is Kaurismäki at his deadpan comedic best. His handling of tone is masterful, and it is difficult not to be enthralled by his style, with diegetic music interludes that accentuate the film—there’s a measure of irony that the most expressive (i.e. carefree) people in the film are musicians.
In one sequence in the setting of a refugee facility, Khaled strums solo on an ethnic stringed instrument, expressing his inner emotions. The authentic sound creates an aural ‘Middle Eastern’ space that transposes with the silence of the ‘Finnish’ institutional space, reminding us how Khaled—and by extension, the Syrians—are being silenced by oppression and extremists. Their music—their source of carefreeness—ring with emotional truth, yet feel utterly displaced. It is through these kinds of actions that Kaurismäki shows a touch of empathy for his characters.