The other Side of  hOpE

REVIEW BY WEi jie lam

The refugee crisis is an issue that has not been touched upon by too many directors, perhaps many directors in the Western world lack the perspective and shared experience of refugees who have fled war-torn regions such as Syria. Aki Kaurismaki himself has not went through this plight, however his latest and last film The Other Side of Hope attempts to tackles this timely topic through comedic drama with great success.

The film follows two main characters: Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee looking for his sister who was lost along the way and Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen), a Finnish salesman who moves away from his alcoholic wife and opens up a restaurant. Inevitably, they cross paths, Khaled and Wikstrom form an unlikely friendship after their initial unfriendly greeting whisky saw them giving each other a bloodied nose. Wikstrom hires Khaled to do menial work at the restaurant. The duo help each other to face comical adversities in a world that they are both somewhat strangers to. The main characters and supporting cast are outsiders to their own world. They tend not to be noticed, often interact with others using very few words, giving a strong feeling of isolation from the strangers around them.   

The vintage elements prevalent in many aspects of the film further this sense of isolation. You could almost be forgiven for thinking it does not take place in contemporary times. This includes its classic Hollywood lighting, the use of old cars, classic interior decor and the rather clear impression that it is shot on film (Kaurismaki is a noted critic of digital cinematography). Kaurismaki also employs the mantra that 'actions speak louder than words', deadpan delivery of both actions and dialogue and more importantly the refrain of dialogue at a few scenes are heavily employed. 

This is all quite deliberate and noticeable, providing many moments of powerful actions that speak a thousand words. It's to be noted that it doesn't really follow normal realistic interactions, however the film is consistent with its usage, naturally creating both the comedic and dramatic moments in the film.

Scenes throughout the film quite often serve as an opportunity for Kaurismaki to leave a political comment on the refugee crisis. In one instance, Wikstrom arranges a forged ID card for Khaled. This illegal process is almost too easy and quick, with the only barrier being a thousand euro fee which Wikstrom covers. Khaled becomes an officially registered citizen in Finland in moments, directly contrasting this is Khaled's earlier experience of going through the government's asylum application process. This even commented upon by the forger hired by Wikstrom, dismissively declaring the ineffectiveness of the official process. 

I found it particularly impressive how Kaurismaki maintains this tone of the two rather conflicting ideals hope and cynicism. Racist thugs harass Khaled throughout the film, illustrating harassment and prejudice refugees will face, commenting that Khaled will very likely always face this antagonism with a lack of help from the native people. However it never ends in dread and is almost always immediately followed by moments of brevity. 

One of the most evident ways in which Kaurismaki excellently creates the film's tone can be seen in the colour palette he employs. The beginning of the film uses darker drab colours which gradually transitions to a softer brighter palette, mirroring the characters' outlook on life changing from hopelessness to hopefulness. 

Kaurismaki's film explores the refugee crisis from a more lighthearted angle than one would expect, however he does this while remaining humane and sincere. While the film delivers a political message that may be more urgent than ever, the film is also a universal tale of human struggle, one which Kaurismaki greatly succeeds in telling.