Review: The Other Side of Hope – Toivon tuolla puolen (2017)

The Other Side of Hope – Toivon tuolla puolen (2017)

Directed by: Aki Kaurismaki | 98 minutes | comedy, drama | Actors: Ville Virtanen, Kati Outinen, Tommi Korpela, Sherwan Haji, Janne Hyytiäinen, Maria Järvenhelmi, Sakari Kuosmanen, Jörn Donner, Niroz Haji, Ilkka Koivula, Milka Ahlroth, Timo Torikka

Six years after the critically acclaimed ‘Le Havre’, about a young African refugee who arrived by boat in the French port city and is wanted by the police for deportation, Aki Kaurismäki returns with a film in which he draws attention to refugees. ‘The Other Side of Hope’ revolves around the Syrian young man Khaled (debutant Sherwan Haji), whose house in Aleppo has been destroyed, and who accidentally ends up in Helsinki after a long journey through Europe. On the way he lost his sister and he hopes by applying for asylum in Helsinki that he will be able to start a search for her.

At the same time, ‘The Other Side of Hope’ is about the aging Finnish businessman Wikström (long-serving Sakari Kuosmanen), who leaves his wife, sells the contents of his clothing store, and ends up buying an empty restaurant with the proceeds of a game of illegal poker. , including staff. That is to say: a cook who has had nothing to do for so long that he has cobwebs clinging to him, a doorman with the wildest ideas for innovation and an intern for the service. The menu consists of a meatball or a can of sardines, but Wikström is convinced that he has a profitable business.

Wikström and Khaled meet when Khaled’s asylum application is rejected. The situation in Aleppo would not be threatening enough (while the news promptly shows images of shelling of the city), so he will be flown back at the expense of the Finnish state. Because of this, Khaled flees from the shelter and begins to roam the streets. When he wants to make Wikström’s garbage corner his sleeping place, the two come to blows, after which Khaled is promptly recruited by the businessman as an assistant in his restaurant. The future is starting to look brighter, but Khaled is attacked on the street by the nationalists of the Finnish Liberation Front, leaving him insecure about his life.

In his characteristic style, Kaurismäki shows a Helsinki that seems to come from the seventies of the last century, but in which current problems do indeed play a role. The helplessness of the asylum seekers who get caught up in the bureaucratic whirlwind of their application is painful to watch. “You have to keep smiling,” Iraqi Mazdak (Simon Al-Bazoon), who has already visited several shelters, confides to Khaled. “The melancholic types are immediately sent back.” Yet there is a lot to laugh about in the film and it is especially surprising how dry the refugees themselves are. For example, if a forged passport is made for Khaled and he has to indicate whether he wants to be on it as a man or woman, his response is: “I don’t understand humor.” But the film is darker than you’re used to from Kaurismäki.

And intensely above all. When Khaled talks about his flight from Aleppo, the camera is fully focused on his face for minutes, but he doesn’t flinch. Let alone let him shed a tear. Kaurismäki is not the kind of director who lets emotions show, but rather makes them feel. The music also helps with this. Every now and then a musician or a band is playing live near Khaled, with the lyrics (fortunately subtitled) commenting on his feeling or his situation. And when the Syrian himself picks up an instrument in the asylum reception, you definitely get goosebumps.

“I’ve lost my heart to Finland,” is Khaled’s hopeful message to Mazdak, heartbreakingly followed by, “But if you know a way out of here, let me know.” Khaled’s dream of a Finland in which everyone is equal and people are honest and helpful turns out to be untenable. For every act of kindness is a hateful member of the Finnish Liberation Front. It doesn’t matter how neatly groomed, noble or industrious Khaled looks. His skin color automatically makes him persona non grata for the cabal of white freedom fighters. It’s amazing how Kaurismäki manages to punctuate the film with so much of his characteristic dry humor, but apart from the absurdity, the situation for the refugees is especially poignant. It is to be hoped that this message will last.

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