Khaled (Sherwan Haji) is a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Finland so he can search for his missing sister. Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) is a traveling salesman who made a killing in a high stakes poker game and decides he wants to own a restaurant. These two men are destined to cross paths in “The Other Side of Hope.”
Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki has a knack for dealing with serious issues but with an eye that sees humor in the drama. Khaled arrives in Helsinki as a stowaway on a coal barge. He has no money and lost his whole family, except his sister Miriam (Niroz Haji), to Isis terror in Aleppo. Upon arrival, the first question he has is “where is the nearest police station?” He wants to do the right thing and work within the government rules and regulations to gain asylum and freedom. It is not the clear path he hoped for.
We first meet Wikstrom as he places his house keys and wedding ring on the kitchen table and silently bids his wife goodbye. He quits his traveling salesman job selling shirts, liquidates his stock and bets all his money in a high stakes poker game. The big winner, he buys a bar, The Golden Pint, with the plan to become a restaurateur. He and his stalwart staff of thee, and a dog, try one type of eatery after another without success.
Khaled’s and Wikstrom’s paths collide when the refugee, newly escaped from an immigrant detention center, sleeps by the dumpster behind the bar. The owner brings Khaled inside, feeds him and gives him a job working under the table. The story follows this little family of misfit toys as they work together to make a happy life.
Kaurismäki deals with serious issues like the refugee crisis, racism and bigotry and the plight of the under trodden in the new millennium. The filmmaker’s deep sense of humor and love of the absurd shines through the drama and brought a smile to my face as I watched, with real pleasure, “The Other Side of Hope.” I give it a B.
A middle-aged salesman, Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen, "Juha"), places his wedding ring and keys on the table where his wife sits smoking. He divests himself of his mens dress shirt stock, makes a killing at a poker game and buys the Golden Pint, a down at its heels seafood restaurant. Meanwhile, Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji) emerges from the coal barge he's stowed away from and reports to a Finnish police station, but when his request for asylum is rejected, he escapes the immigration center. When Wikström finds Khaled huddling behind his trash cans, he offers the man a job in "The Other Side of Hope."
Finnish writer/director Aki Kaurismäki ("The Man Without a Past") specializes in the same Scandinavian deadpan humor that marks the films of Norway's Bent Hamer and Sweden's Roy Andersson, a love of rockabilly and all things retro further defining his films. With his last film, "Le Havre," Kaurismäki began to address Europe's immigrant crisis, the subject inspiring him towards a trilogy. "The Other Side of Hope," which also takes place in a port city, is his followup and it is a film that is food for the soul.
Kaurismäki can startle us with the strange beauty of an image, Khaled's coal dust covered face emerging from blackness, just as he can make us laugh with his mise en scène, Wikström's disapproving wife sitting smoking, her hair in curlers, a cactus adorning her kitchen table. Likewise, his screenplay straddles the serious with the absurd. Khaled's heartbreaking interview at the Finnish immigration center details a long and frustrating journey, locating his sister Miriam (Niroz Haji) lost in a border crowd now his primary objective, fellow refugee Mazdak (Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon) from Iraq his sole support. Meanwhile Wikström susses out his inherited employees Calamnius, the doorman (Ilkka Koivula), Nyrhinen, the cook (Janne Hyytiäinen) and Mirja, the waitress (Nuppu Koivu), The Golden Pint's reinvention as Imperial Sushi a hilarious disaster, its first customers a tour bus full of Japanese. Kaurismäki links his parallel stories with a delightful bit of slamming door farce as The Golden Pint staff hide Khaled and a dog from government inspectors. Musicians pop up on street corners and as entertainment at Wikström's establishment, each performance its own small gem. The film wraps on a note of both joy and tragedy.
"The Other Side of Hope" arrives in the U.S. during a flood of year-end releases and award hopefuls. Don't let this one get lost in the crowd as it is more emotionally rewarding and thought provoking than many of those higher profile films.
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