Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlinale, veteran filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki thematically continues his earlier film Le Havre with another examination of the treatment of outsiders. Using a familiar and deliberate style, the tone isn’t always consistent, but the message is unmistakable.
After travelling salesman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) leaves his wife, he wins big at poker and decides to change his life by opening a restaurant. Meanwhile, Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji) finds himself in Helsinki, and seeks asylum from the authorities. When the application is rejected, he winds up on the streets, until he is taken in by Wikström and his eclectic staff. With very little prompting, the absurdist narrative sees the staff rallying around Khaled to ensure that he has employment and a place to stay.
In the anachronistic world of Kaurismäki, everything is presented with a matter-of-factness. So naturally, taking in a refugee after being punched in the face by him is just another eventuality of being human. Kaurismäki’s stated aim is to shatter the popular perceptions of refugees as either victims or ‘queue jumpers’ living off the system. This is where THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE is at its strongest, and Kaurismäki’s technique is most effective. Haji’s long monologue about his journey, directly to camera, is humanising and powerful.
Much like Le Havre, the approach and aesthetic is “stubbornly anti-modern,” crafted within the framework of a fable and punctuated by buskers and minstrels that add to the surrealism of it all. However, unlike Kaurismäki’s previous work the approach is not always a consistent one. The long takes coupled with the deadpan performance of Kuosmanenin particular are disarmingly hilarious at times, but at others they simply test our patience.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to dislike THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE, especially when its central theme is about the basic kindness of humans. Even so, we see some of the slightly more cynical Kaurismäki creeping through, with a subplot about the white supremacist Finland Liberation Army. While they are initially stopped by a collective of well-meaning homeless Helsinkians, their later actions and deliberately ambiguous ending make us wonder what really lies on the other side of hope.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE is playing in competition at the Sydney Film Festival 2017.