The Urgency of Quirky: Our Review Of ‘The Other Side of Hope’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - December 08, 2017
The Urgency of Quirky: Our Review Of ‘The Other Side of Hope’

I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of Aki Kaurismaki. He’s fine but there are other directors I can go to if I wanted quirky and stilted movies. Although there’s an urgency to his new film The Other Side of Hope.

It touches on the same subject as Le Havre but it feels more effective this time around. And it’s mostly due to the imagery that he takes better advantage of this time around.

Kaurismaki’s not afraid to much up his sterile pastel surfaces with soot. A man emerges from a pile of coal. Another leaves his bathroom to give his wife his keys to his apartment.

Fine, the former image is a bit on the nose, the first man’s tan skin becoming darker. Because of this he inadvertently makes himself conspicuous in comparison to the light-skinned Finns.

But I’ll give it a pass. These two men meet twice, both of whom starting anew. The first man, Khaled, is a Syrian who reluctantly goes to the cops to seek asylum.

The second, Wikstrom, checks into a motel, sells all his clothing inventory and with that money, buys a seafood restaurant. There’s a purpose to showing the parallel lives of these men. Kaurismaki has a message for his Finnish compatriots.

That there aren’t a lot of differences between themselves and the newcomers from Syria and Iraq. Khaled walks around a city we assume is Helsinki. While he does just that, the film has characters whose opinions of him run the spectrum.

Some of them are like Wikstrom. They don’t even put two and two together that Khaled is a refugee and go on with their lives. While others who are members of ‘Liberation Army of Finland’ have more violent ways.

The humour surprisingly works here, skinhead groups and all. Even that gang’s detached way of acting and speaking is uniform to the other, more benevolent characters. It effectively and funnily points to the way the Western world treats refugees.

The leads also bring this mix of humour and serious subject matter across. There’s something in the way both actors perform that, as they should, make us root for their success.

As Wikstrom, Sakari Kousmanen charms as the film’s stern moral centre, keeping cool even in tense situations. That gambling scene would have been a filler moment but Kousmanen shows how fearless Wikstrom can be. On the other hand, playing Khaled is Sherwan Haji.

Khaled tells the story of his family’s death hoping it would help his case. Kuosmanen brings the comedy while Haji brings the drama, their approaches minimal as it would be in a Kaurismaki film.

The movie has its share of tonal misfires. The Finnish government denies Khaled’s refugee appeal because Aleppo isn’t dangerous enough, an infuriating ruling. The film follows that by Khaled watching Aleppo burn.

An officer (Maria Jarvenhelmi) helps him escape, and somehow Kaurismaki pairs that scene with a rockabilly song. Cinema has approached the refugee story through different tones and genres.

But I feel as if we should have seen and heard something more serious. It seems like the director dropped the ball. Although he picks it back up by making Khlaed and Wikstrom meet again, a moment long overdue.

The two characters punch each other and share a meal. The film has its tendency for long winding detours. But we eventually see a matter of fact, conflict free nature of doing the right thing. Instead of getting to know each other the film shows that they already kind of do.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.