The Other Side of Hope (12A)
DIRECTED BY: Aki Kaurismäki
STARRING: Ville Virtanen, Dome Karukoski, Tommi Korpela
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
Review by Tim Robey (The Telegraph)
The Other Side of Hope, Aki Kaurismäki’s gorgeous and cuttingly poignant comedy, begins with a young Syrian asylum seeker emerging from a coal pile in Helsinki’s industrial port. He is Khaled (Sherwan Haji), and has wound up here by accident, after escaping violent persecution by jumping aboard a freighter in Eastern Europe.
Coated black, head to toe, he finds his way to a shower and cleans up, before asking a local official where to find the police. “Are you sure?” asks the man, a young black guy, quizzically – a question that’s pure, distilled Kaurismäki, in its loving irreverence, implied empathy, and suggestion of a community that wants to help the down-and-out however it can.
Khaled, though, wants to do things by the book. Handing himself in as an illegal migrant, he checks in to a Reception Centre and is grilled about his journey to Finland from the rubble of Aleppo, which is so laden with aching tragedy and racist abuse that you wonder how on earth Kaurismäki can bring a smile back to our faces, let alone the torrents of laughter, later on, that his film manages to unleash.
Khaled’s interrogation scene in this drab holding centre might be the most matter-of-fact bulletin of wholly plausible, real-world horrors that the Finnish director has ever dramatised, even if past films – like his last one, 2011’s Le Havre – have also delved into the politics of immigration in Europe. Khaled, describing the fate of his whole family, doesn’t shed a tear: it’s not his style. Nor is it the director’s. But the beautiful blue light in this scene, shot with painterly precision by Kaurismäki’s genius of a cinematographer, Timo Salminen, bathes it in teardrop-pools of intense sadness – all the more intense for being projected from celluloid, and not, like everything else here, digitally.
It’s fair to say that comedy hardly surrounds Khaled. Not yet. The parallel plot about a travelling shirt salesman, the wonderfully named Waldemar Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) is our ray of light. Separating from his wife, without a word, in a hilariously brusque introduction, this classic Kaurismäki archetype – ashen-faced, lumpy, ageing – has grand plans to set himself up as a restaurateur.
First he needs the capital, and involves himself in one of the film’s instant highlights: a high-stakes poker game in elite company. The whole point of Kaurismäki’s films, after all, is their poker-faced-ness. Watching these players try to out-deadpan each other, almost to out-Kaurismäki each other, as preposterous flukes wipe them out is every bit as addictive as being on a winning streak.
As a writer, Kaurismäki has a precious knack for jokes that work beautifully in any language. “Just the dining hall and the kitchen scored badly,” Wikström will tell his rookie staff – soon to include a runaway Khaled – after inspectors come a-calling. It’s the kind of line that meets a pause, before a slow crescendo of laughter, which only builds as the rest of the audience catches on. And just wait for Wikström’s next business plan, to seize on the trendiness of sushi and enlist the world’s least qualified itamae to serve it up.
Kaurismäki doesn’t flatter his countrymen by overstating their welcome to the likes of Khaled, who is mercilessly pursued by far-right bullies, nearly set on fire, and inexplicably addressed as “Jewboy” at one point. But we know who this filmmaker’s kind of everyday heroes are: great in a crisis, even if they look like they’d barely give you the time of day, and you’d definitely have second thoughts about eating their food. You could never have heard of Aki Kaurismäki and come away from this film knowing exactly what the fuss has always been about.
FTHURSDAY 3 MAY 2018
Doors: 7.30pm Film 8pm
Rotten Tomatoes - 90%
The Guardian - ★★★★
The Telegraph - ★★★★★
The Independent - ★★★★
The Times - ★★★★★