The Other Side of Hope
Review by Michael D Hollick
In comedy drama The Other Side of Hope, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki shines a light on the politically-charged subject of the European refugee crisis in his home country, and rather than tell the story with a brutal realism, he threads together a wonderfully humane story filled with humour. By drawing upon the humorous undertones of everyday life, be it for residents or asylum seekers, Kaurismaki demonstrates that humane elements are within all individuals, and that humane acts do not have be overtly dramatic or even large gestures; in fact it is the little things that we can all do that indeed make the most difference in the lives of those most in need. By virtue of his quirky storytelling, offhand gags and black humour Kaurismaki portrays characters that are able to find hope in even the most hopeless of situations, and it is no surprise that he was awarded Winner of Best Director at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival for this film.
The film commences with a dual-narrative, on one hand we follow the story of a Syrian-refugee, Khaled (Sherwan Haji), who has recently arrived in Helsinki to seek asylum from his war-torn home. On the other hand, there is the Finnish businessman Waldemar (Sakari Kuosmanen), unhappy in his current situation and seeking to turn over a new leaf in life. In one of the film’s first scenes, we see Waldemar remove his wedding ring and hand it to his wife, (who promptly dumps it in the ashtray without much thought), before leaving their drab apartment. Waldermar’s new life is linked to a new career, as he tries to sell off the stock of shirts from his previous job as salesman, with the ambition of owning a restaurant.
While seemingly unrelated, the two men’s stories eventually intersect, and with the characters introduced from Khaled’s past, as well as his current home in the asylum shelter, plus the hopeless saps that come with Waldemar’s new enterprise as restaurant owner, the film seamlessly builds multiple unexpected plot twists and resolutions from the exploits of these humorous, yet very real characters as they go about their everyday lives.
There is much to take away from The Other Side of Hope. Emotionally, the warmth that the film’s characters and their interactions make this film an unexpectedly ‘feel-good’ flick and it is almost guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face and make their day lighter. At the same time, however, Kuraseki’s portrayal of the realities that an individual seeking asylum faces reminds the audience how troubling and unsettling such a situation is. And given the mass-movement of refugees in our current time, the film is a reminder to us that a little bit of kindness can go a long way to changing another’s situation permanently.
MICHAEL D HOLLICK