Directed, written, and produced by Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki (Le Havre, The Man Without a Past), The Other Side of Hope is a timely and oddly touching comedic drama that manages to combine artistry and humour with wry social commentary.
The Other Side of Hope is about two very different men: Waldemar Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), a travelling salesman who quits his job and his marriage in order to purchase a struggling restaurant, and Khaled Ali (Sherwan Haji), a former mechanic from Syria who has escaped the violence of his home country and stowed away on a cargo ship to Finland. For much of the film, their stories seem unconnected but Waldemar and Khaled’s paths cross at the film’s halfway point in a twist of coincidence that Kaurismäki skillfully molds into a commentary on the power of compassion and human kindness.
Sakari Kousmanen and Sherwan Haji both deliver excellent performances. Haji, in particular, brings an energy and earnestness to his character that makes Khaled instantly appealing. Even before we know his story, we want him to succeed.
Also deserving of a nod is the soundtrack. Comprised of rockabilly and blues tunes, the music perfectly captures The Other Side of Hope’s melancholic, but not entirely despairing, atmosphere.
The film offers a refreshingly frank portrait of the current refugee crisis in Europe. Khaled has lost almost his entire family when his city was bombed and finds himself intrenched in the bureaucracy associated with obtaining permission to stay in Finland. The Other Side of Hope doesn’t shy away from depicting the obstacles and challenges that Khaled faces: he is alone, having been separated from his sister somewhere in the tangle of migration and borders, and doesn’t speak the language of his new country.
Everything about The Other Side of Hope is subdued and understated, from the deadpan humour and characters that seem incapable of overt displays of emotion or affection to the muted colour pallet. Khaled’s struggle is never sentimentalized. But for all its bleak detachment and the seriousness of its subject matter, there is something uplifting and optimistic about The Other Side of Hope. Scattered throughout the story are small acts of bravery and humanity that go un-applauded and un-announced.
This is a universe where people help one another simply because it is the right thing to do and the ordinariness with which the film treats their actions reveals an unwavering trust in the goodness of people.
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