Touted as a comedy, The Other Side of Hope is a melancholy work that presents a bleak view of the lot of illegal refugees in Finland. The main worth of the film is in personifying the plight of illegal refugees.
Finland’s best-known director Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope is billed as a comedy, which seems incongruous for a film focusing on the desperate situation of stowaway Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji), who must find a way to make a home in Finland despite his illegal status. Indeed, you probably have to be Finnish to get more than a smirk or two out of it (although they’re a dour lot not given to mirth, at least as depicted here).
Ironically, the displaced Khaled’s rescuer and benefactor is a displaced Finn, middle-aged salesman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), who has just left his wife and bought a dodgy restaurant. From rocky beginnings the two form an unlikely bond, with Khaled joining a small staff of misfits.
Actually, ‘bond’ is a bit strong. It’s more a matter of Wikström having the basic humanity to take in the homeless Khaled, who has just been beaten up by local anti-refugee thugs after going on the run from hardened immigration authorities who encounter many in his position, and simply can’t accept them all.
You wonder what it takes, though: Khaled has only his sister left (whose whereabouts are unknown), the rest of his family having been killed in an Aleppo bombing raid. Still his application to stay is rejected.
The ‘comedy’ mostly derives from the efforts of Wikström and his staff to turn a profit from the sorry restaurant. They try a few different cuisines, but there’s not a lot of culinary know-how between the lot of them, and the dishes they present to the occasional customer unlucky enough to mosey by are dismal.
You want this bunch of unsmiling underdogs to succeed, but their future – and that of the restaurant – looks bleak. There’s poignancy in their resilience and refusal to quit, even if they have no choice but to keep on keeping on. But the real poignancy is in Khaled’s quest for belonging. Don’t expect any happy endings here…or a neat resolution.
Curiously, there are musical interludes throughout, featuring songs with maudlin lyrics played by pub or street bands comprising mostly grizzled old musos who look like 60s renegades. Perhaps, like the Hendrix poster on the walls of the restaurant, the intention is to reinforce the theme of displacement.
The worth of The Other Side of Hope is not as a comedy, but in putting the viewer into the shoes of displaced refugees like Khaled. Personifed like this, who but a heartless prick (or a politician – oh, wait) could be unmoved by those in such a plight?
The Other Side of Hope screening dates (2017-18 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival):
UWA Somerville: 22 Jan-28 Jan, 8.00 PM
ECU Joondalup Pines: 30 Jan-4 Feb 2018, 8.00 PM
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