The Other Side of Hope
Sherwan Haji plays Khaled, a Syrian refugee who has ended up in Helsinki after stowing away in a coal container on a cargo ship. After he washes away the soot he heads for the nearest police station to claim asylum. While he is being kept in the custody of immigration authorities, he relays the tragic story of the loss of his home and most of his family to a bombing raid in Aleppo. His one remaining family member is his sister, who fled Syria with him but was detained in Hungary. However, despite all he has been through he is shifted from pillar to post, from authority to authority, until his application is rejected. On the morning when he is due to be deported he escapes from the holding centre and roams the streets in a desperate attempt to start a new life in this European country.
In a parallel story, Sakari Kuosmanen plays Wikström, an ageing travelling salesman who leaves his wife and gambles a large sum of cash in a shady poker den. After a massive winning, he decides to purchase an ailing restaurant and attempts to turn around its fortunes - a challenge considering the establishment’s demotivated staff (who were left unpaid by their erstwhile manager) and the stodgy fare they are traditionally associated with.
Eventually, the paths of the two characters cross and they attempt to help each other out of their respective predicaments.
The Other Side of Hope from Finnish writer/director Aki Kaurismäki is a rather distinctive beast, mixing two very different stories that ultimately come together. Both characters share something in common in that they have committed to gambles and continue to do so throughout - something that ultimately makes them kindred spirits, more or less destined to wind up together. Aki adopts a very studied style as he depicts both protagonists navigating their daily lives in a series of restrained, statically-shot visual tableaux. There are no melodramatic elements here; the story is told via actions and background details rather than via a bombastic score or loud emoting. There is music here though in the form of some ageing Finnish-language blues acts, either playing in dive bars or busking in various transient-heavy areas such as railway stations. Like the main characters, they are throwing their all into something that’s on a road to nowhere.
Tonally however, the film is a little jarring. Khaled’s sections are an understandably sombre study of the plight of the modern refugee - one of soullessly blank-faced bureaucracy and merciless beatings by roving bands of right-wing thugs. It’s an effective mirror of shame reflected back at Europe’s shameful treatment of unfortunates desperate to escape the horrors of their home countries. However, Wikström’s scenes are more deadpan comedic as his laughably apathetic new subordinates think nothing of keeping a dog or allowing cobwebs to spread in the kitchen, or presenting sardines to a hapless diner while still in the can. By the time we get to his attempts to reinvent the place as a sushi restaurant you’ll have a difficult time stifling the laughter. It’s like we’re watching two different movies (and maybe even a third, if we count the interludes involving the blues musicians) and they just don’t quite sit comfortably together despite the common thread of forlorn hope.
Having said all that, The Other Side of Hope successfully (if rather quirkily) carries the viewer through to its conclusion. Even if it’s not quite as good as Juho Kuosmanen’s The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, another recent Finnish import, it does carry the same sense of dry modesty and subtle character observation.
Runtime: 100 mins
Dir: Aki Kaurismäki
Script: Aki Kaurismäki
Starring: Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen, Tommi Korpela, Janne Hyytiäinen, Ilkka Koivula, Simon Al-Bazoon, Kati Outinen