The Other Side of Hope is another gem from Finnish writer/director Aki Kaurismäki. It picks up some of the themes concerning refugees of his 2011 French language film Le Havre.
Set in another port city, Finland’s capital Helsinki, it tells of the developing friendship between a Syrian asylum seeker, Khaled (Sherwan Haji) and a former shirt salesperson turned restaurateur, Waldemar Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen).
It has Kaurismäki’s signature mix of offbeat humour and serious social issues. He makes the audience uncomfortable as we laugh at a topic which should not be a joke.
The restaurant, and its staff in particular, seems to be have time-travelled from the 1950s. The Golden Pint’s no frills décor and menu match the expectations of its working-class customers. Waldemar’s stumbling attempts to embrace 21st century hospitality bring some comic relief from the grim obstacles facing the refugees.
Nevertheless they have a common thread in their battles with authority. Even the lacklustre restaurant staff shine in comparison with Finnish bureaucracy. However, immigration security is not the only foe, as neo-nazis are lurking with intent.
Khaled’s stay at the open-door but depressing detention centre has its upside. During his journey from his home in Aleppo, he has become separated from his sister. His Iraqi friend helps with his attempts to find her.
One of the bright sides of this movie is the music, led by singer/songwriter Tuomari Nurmio. He appears in musical vignettes as a busker and lead singer for a band. There are several videos of the soundtrack online, including this glorious performance:
The cast includes several other veterans of Finnish entertainment, who help to energise the oddball collection of local characters. If their world seems quite daft, it triumphs over the unhinged reality that the refugees have fled and what they now face in exile.
Anyway, you’d have to cry if you didn’t laugh. Perhaps, that’s the other side of hope.