The Other Side of Hope
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
Starring Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen
Playing at Film Forum, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Cultures and movie genres collide in the latest oddity from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki.
“The Other Side of Hope” keeps the director’s deadpan, off-beat humor found in his minor arthouse hits “Leningrad Cowboys Go America” and “Man Without A Past,” but adds a dose of reality, focusing on the current immigration crisis.
Syrian refuge Khaled (Sherwen Haji) emerges from beneath a bed of coal as a stowaway, then dutifully begins the process of seeking asylum. He tells his heartbreaking tale to kind bureaucrats with minimal emotion. He was a mechanic in Aleppo when a stray missile killed everyone in his family except his sister. They walked from Turkey through the Balkans and central Europe where they got separated during a violent incident. Angry nationalists kept him moving until he ended up in Finland, where he hopes to continue to search for her.
What’s for him in Finland? Well, there’s the terse salesman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) who leaves his wife, quits his job, wins big at poker, and buys an out-of-the-way bar and restaurant. It’s not like the two become bosom buddies, but there’s a flat, accepting weariness that the two men share. The restaurant, with its unenthusiastic waitstaff and unappetizing recipes, is a relative haven compared to the mayhem shown on the news.
The stakes are high for our characters, but the drama on the screen remains microscopic. This is the type of film some will adore for its subtlety, while others may emerge asking, “that’s it?”
The humor in “The Other side of Hope” doesn’t necessarily emerge from jokes — sometimes it’s just a well-placed shot of a dog — but it shows how human kindness rarely takes the form of grandiose Hallmark-ready overtures. Sometimes an old man playing barroom guitar and opening a can of sardines are all you need to save a life.