Master writer/director Aki Kaurismaki questions the other side of hope in his bleak new comedy. Is it disappointment or success? Whatever the answer, Kaurismaki provides the interesting journey of two men that get there. Both have hope, each looking for a better life.
At one point in the movie, Haji, a recent Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Finland asks the bathroom attendant at the station directions to the police station. “Where is the nearest police station?” “You sure? Comes the reply.” “Not really,” is Haji’s answer. The attendant replies: “I will show you anyway. You can decide later.” Funny? Maybe to some but not to all. Deadpan comedy is an acquired taste. The humour can be so subtle, it is not laughable.
The latest film by Master of deadpan comedy Aki Kaurismaki (DRIFTING CLOUDS, LE HAVRE, LENINGRAD COWBOYS GO AMERICA) tackles a current pressing world issue in his latest film – the issue of the refugee crisis in Europe.
As the film opens, the audience sees a Syrian refugee, Haji pull himself out of a coal dumpster in ship docked at a port in Finland. Khaled (Sherwan Haji) seeks refugee status but is ironically refused on the basis of peace in his region, just as news on the TV report multiple bombings in his town with dozens of casualties. At the same time, a Finnish middle-aged man, Wiktrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) is seeking a new life for himself as he leaves his wife, wins money at poker and buys a restaurant business. The two meet after a fight and Haji is aided by the restaurant owner. This is Kaurismaki’s most serious film to date and it sends an urgent message of the refugee status. Kaurismaki has still not lost his sense of humour as illustrated in an important scene in the film when Khaled says: “I love Finland like nothing you can imagine, but please get me out of here!” For those familiar with Kaurismaki, there are familiar segments in this film that are found in his other films like the gambling, starting up a new restaurant business, the cute pet dog and the LENINGRAD COWBOYS type music.
Kaurismaki spends 10 minutes or so on the stud poker game Wikstrom gambles with his money with the aim of winning in order to open his restaurant. This is the element of suspense that is seldom present in his films. It works!
Those familiar with Kaurismaki (he has directed 34 film as of date) will be pleased to catch a cameo from his favourite actress Kati Outenin. She plays a shirt shop proprietress hoping to retire in Mexico City so she can drink saki and dance the hula-hula.
In THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE, Kaurismaki demonstrates once again masterly filmmaking that appears so effortless. His outwardly looking simple films are more than a pleasure to watch. This one ranks as one of his best.