This film offers two bittersweet stories interwining, about a refugee in a strange and hostile land and an old entrepreneur who leaves his wife and finds a fresh start in running a diner. Kaurismaki explores the plight of the modern refugee with deadpan humour and emotion.
If you want cinephile escapism as far away from La La Land as possible, then Aki Kaurismäki – the great Finnish master of melancholy wit – is your man. His world remains the familiar one he’s built so lovingly over a long career, a place where jobs are a barely tolerated necessity, everybody smokes and drinks, 1950s/60s vintage clothes, cars, bars and uniforms are preferred, and things go off at half cock and are met with deadpan responses and biting remarks. It’s an enjoyable place to escape to, even though you have to be tough to inhabit it. Nighttime mood lighting out of Edward Hopper paintings predominates and, just as in old westerns, there are men and women of honour and generosity and some who have none. A speedy opening montage of a coal ship being unloaded at Helsinki indicates that The Other Side of Hope follows Le Havre as the second of a putative dockyard trilogy. I leave it to your imagination to guess in what Chaplinesque manner the resilient Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji) is introduced to us – a striking visual gag that plays on race relations. The film’s other protagonist, Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), is a burly middle-aged employee in an immaculate suit who leaves his wife (Ilka Koivula) by putting his wedding ring and keys on the table and walking out the door (she throws the ring into her ashtray). He winds up his shirt retail business, wins at poker and buys a hopeless restaurant staffed by three ne’er-do-wells, each a masterpiece in slovenly character observation. Parallel threads see Khaled get punished for being honest with the police, go on the run and get attacked by fascist thugs, while Wikström tries to make changes to his new place, experimenting disastrously and hilariously with the cuisine. Khaled and Wikström don’t meet for quite a while, but after they do the film picks up yet more comic speed and momentum as Khaled gets fake credentials. His mission is to find his missing sister, lost en route from Aleppo; Wikström is just looking for a change (at one point he runs into his wife selling snacks. “I gave up drink and bought a kiosk,” she explains). The film is dedicated to the late Peter von Bagh, the Finnish polymath filmmaker, writer and programmer who died in 2014 and was Kaurismäki’s great friend, collaborator and sharer of straight-faced drollery. A Finnish colleague, Max Borg, tells me that Koistinen, the adorable restaurant dog here, bears the same name as a character in Kaurismäki’s Lights in the Dusk played by Janne Hyytiäinen, who appears the chef in this film. These are the kind of connections that emphasise the particularity of Kaurismäki’s creations. Although for fans it’s the familiarity of his tropes that makes every film so welcoming, developments of a sort are still detectable. Helsinki is a more soothing, almost nurturing place than ever before, with various musicians breaking up the story with blues and tango ballads. The gags roll out at a faster rate than usual. It all adds up to a gently loving fable with a straightforward political message that home can be wherever you find it. Aki Kaurismäki is nowadays a wry sentimentalist who seems to believe that, if hope may not spring eternal, it can gush brown out of rusty taps.
Nick James, Sight & Sound, 17 February 2017.
The Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki films are often marked by a particular kind of humor. As I’ve been saying since the early 1990s, he really can put the “dead” in “deadpan.” This was particularly true in such ‘90s pictures as “The Match Factory Girl” and “I Hired A Contract Killer,” tales of privation and depression that treated these subjects with both gravity and acknowledgement of an overall absurdity in the human condition. Mr. Kaurismäki’s protagonists are often drink-soaked sad sacks who achieve a kind of sodden resignation. In cases where they’re not these types, they’re the Leningrad Cowboys, an unlikely “rock” “band” that carries on inexorably despite their ineptitude and the bemused semi-indifference of nearly every audience they encounter. In recent years, though, the director has found something to believe in, and this has added a humanist dimension to his pictures that is both pleasing and moving. His 2011 “Le Havre” was about a shoe-shiner in the title French port who takes in a young African teen who came on a container ship. Aside from being an excellent illustration of the Christian proverb about loving thy neighbor, it was also a warm and funny film standing up for the larger principle of immigration. So too is his latest feature, “The Other Side of Hope.” Because it’s set in his native Finland, I suppose this picture has more of what I’ll call Akian tropes than “Le Havre” did. One of its protagonists, Wikström, drives around in a sleek, oversized black car of a vintage unknown to me, in keeping with the director’s insistence of never depicting a post-1962 auto. Wikström is a man at loose ends, having dissolved his marriage and subsequently won a small fortune at poker. He decides to invest that cash in a small bar/restaurant that’s very down at its heels, and whose staff is highly ambivalent about the quality of attention that comes with a new owner. In the meantime, Khaled, a Syrian refugee who’s come in via a coal ship (his emergence on docking is an unforgettable image) is being processed through Finland’s supposedly humane immigration system. But once he’s very politely rejected, he goes on the lam. Not selfishly—he is merely desperate to get word from his sister in Syria while he is in Europe, and to arrange her passage out of Syria from the safety of Helsinki. Once Khaled and Wikström’s paths cross for the second time (their first encounter is when Wikström almost runs him down in that aforementioned car), hope is revived, and comedy blossoms, as when Wikström tries to transform his place into a sushi restaurant. But Khaled’s quest is made difficult by belligerent racist skinheads. By the time Khaled is actually put in touch with his sister, the race against time is even more critical. The movie expands upon Kaurismäki’s central mode of observation and delivers some trenchant, upsetting truths about the immigration experience from the side of those seeking asylum. While in the detaining center awaiting a ruling on his case, Khaled is told by a friend not to appear too cheerful, as people will take him for mentally disturbed. Of course a serious mien may lead some to react with fear. As for the skinheads, they consistently get Khaled’s ethnicity wrong as they spew hate at him. Kaurismäki makes these bigots look ridiculous, but he also takes very seriously the damage they do, and the movie’s finale takes that into account. Its suggestive title lingers at the end, leaving a question mark that the viewer will have to turn over personally, and that’s a good thing.
Glenn Kenny, Roger Ebert.com., December 1, 2017.
|13 (20%)||39 (59%)||12 (18%)||2 (3%)||0 (0%)|
Total Number of Responses: 66
Film Score (0-5): 3.95
152 members and guests visited the Wilfred Noyce Centre for this screening with 66 providing a response. That is a hit rate of 43%; a result that is well below our average but the responses we did receive indicated that the Centre is a pretty uncomfortable venue to see a film. There were also numerous observations about the inability to read the subtitles easily. This I know was partly to do with the sight lines for those watching from the ground floor seating and for those of you in the tired seating the film was too far away for some. There are still issues with white subtitles on white backgrounds. The story line left some confused and unsettled, with comments like “This could have been very depressing, but ended a feel good film but I have no idea why”. “1950’s or 2018? Era not clear and no ending? Lovely acting. Awful venue…could not get comfortable”. “Liked the droll humour but ISIS in 1960?” However it definitely had an impact with comments like “disconcerting and sad, but the support of ordinary people was heart-warming. Realistic “dead eyes” of traumatised asylum seekers; deadpan humour lifted the mood but the unresolved ending was difficult!” and “portrayed the muddle of people fleeing and crisis but not landing on their feet in a new place. Made me think”. Also, “very mixed feelings about this film. Borderline “Good” (could have been “Average”) – weird mixture of inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because of the way the little people helped each other; depressing because of the way the steamroller state and the vile racists seemed to conspire against the refugee(s). Flashes of humour (black and deadpan on occasion) redeemed it and lifted it up a notch …” “The slow pace and careful direction made one really pay attention. Loved the music and dry humour that helped lift ones spirits in what was a very tragic tale”. “I would rate this film as good. A film full of strange dissonances - the splashes of magenta v the generally grey palette, the old school technology of the bureaucracy v up to the minute IT hacking and most tellingly the kindness v the brutality of strangers. All told in a deadpan style shot through with wry humour”. “I’m not at all sure what it is that gives this film its curious warmth. Possibly a slightly dreamlike sense of being out of time? The appealing bluntness of the dialogue? The fact that no two people in it are moving in the same direction yet there is collective movement? The vaguely humanist sense that you don’t have to be great at anything but if you show willing good things will happen? Unless you’re a refugee in which case life will continue to be a lottery of course. It reminded me strongly of Hal Hartley’s early films with its stilted dialogue, gnomic utterances, sympathy for society's waifs and strays and unpredictable plot. Than which I can give no greater praise”. All comments are on the website. “A delightful black comedy with enough pathos to make it an interesting story. I hope the Finns are not so tough on immigrants”. “Great photography”. “Good story. Well-made and makes you think”. “Very interesting”. “Sad”. “A bitter sweet film. Very informative”. “Very moving”. “Very slow but interesting. Poor definition of subtitling”. “Was the air conditioning not working – I thought I would pass out. Great film – great music but as with the Eagle Huntress I could read very few of the subtitles and my optician tells me I have 20/20 vision!”. “Enjoyed the humour”. “The good the bad and the desperate (To misquote). Two different stories colliding and interrelating – clever and yes – hope were there should be none!”. “Deadpan emphasised the skill in direction”. “Charming! Great characters, amusing and well shot”. “That was great. It put the human into the asylum seeker. Frighteningly bleak. Life is a lottery”. “Content thin…music good but inappropriate”. “Excellent in parts but too much below this level. Some very good acting and well filmed”. “Some wry humour in such a tough situation – the whole gamut of humanity from good to evil. Very convincing acting. Slow but thoughtful pace. Certainly original”. “Excellent performances, effective Wikström – lovely touches of humour! Great music”. “The humour lightened an otherwise near tragic subject. I enjoyed this film”. “Long – not sure about the unsolved ending. Very uncomfortable seats and viewing”. “Rather slow. Inconclusive ending”. “My bottom protests…too long”. “Sort if interesting I look forward to Part 2!” “I am sure it would have been “good” if I could have read the subtitles and knew what was going on. Surely it would easy with such films to have a free standing black board to display or background to give an opportunity to read the subtitles!”. “The other side of hope – the other side of entertainment”. “I was looking forward to this Finnish/German film. I have wanted to visit Finland for some time and am currently learning German so both areas appealed. However I can only rate the film as "Average". I was disappointed because I could not make up my mind whether the film was a drama documentary, black comedy or a sad commentary on the manner in which refugees are now treated by wealthy Western countries. In this respect I had hoped that Finland would prove to be the exception to the rule. I enjoyed the slightly offbeat humour of the Golden Pint bar and its "employees" and its many incarnations as sushi bar, curry house, etc. The bar and the Refugee Reception Centre and indeed the down and outs at the station showed that human beings are capable of great kindness and ingenuity when the authorities fail to provide this to their fellow human beings. The shirt selling business man was also an interesting character. I did not understand the scene with the heavy smoking poker players - were these business associates? Indeed smoking seemed to figure very prominently in the whole film - reminiscent of pre-War films in the UK. I found the reunion scene with the bar owner's wife quite moving. I was not sure what we were meant to draw from the ending. Hopefully the refugee did not die from his wounds but in any event it seemed likely his sister would be transported back to Syria. Finally, my wish to visit Finland has perhaps been slightly coloured by this film”. “Thank you again for a thought provoking film that had me completely engaged....I was gripped by this film, loved the anarchic humour, the music, and identified with the characters, willing the lead male to find his sister and for a happy ending... though what was also particularly good about this film was that left with an ambiguous ending my own imagination was left to ponder an outcome ....” “A very topical film with some very likeable characters and a rather off the wall style. I was disappointed by the ending - it seemed rather inevitable he would be harmed by racists just as his sister was delivered safely. Different and very enjoyable”.