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FNE at Berlinale 2017: Review COMPETITION The Other Side of Hope

2017-02-15

BERLIN: Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki arrives in Berlin with a story a Syrian refugee in Helsinki that could not be more topical with his The Other Side of Hope which screens in the main competition. 

This is the first new feature film for Kaurismäki since his hugely successful La Havre six years ago which also focused on the topic of immigration. But The Other Side of Hope while still adhering to the unique Kaurismäki style is far more immediate and more connected to real feelings and real people.

The film starts out telling two stories that converge after forty minutes. The first of these features Khaled, a Syrian refugee, played by Sherwan Haji. Khaled has arrived in Helsinki after stowing away on a coal freighter, to escape the violence of terrorist attacks on his native Alleppo.  We first see him emerging from the coal freighter covered in black soot.  He heads for a nearby police station to claim asylum but when the authorities refuse his application and say he will be deported he decides to make a dash for it and remain in the country illegally.

The second story Wikström, a Finnish travelling salesman played by Kaurismäki regular Sakari Kuosmanen who sells men’s ties and shirts.  Wikström wants to escape from his shrewish wife played by Kaija Pakarinen. Wikström unloads all his stock of shirts and ties and stakes all his money on a poker game which he wins. He uses the proceeds to buy a restaurant on the outskirts of Helsinki, a down at heels Kaurismäki style place called The Golden Pint.

Both Khaled and Wikström and looking for a fresh start in life.  They come together when Wikström find Khaled sleeping rough near the restaurant. But while their relationship gets off to a rocky start in the end Wikström takes Kahled in and gives him a job. At the Golden Pint we have the perfect Kaurismäki cast of characters; the cook Nyrhinen played by Janne Hyytiainen, Calaminius played by Ilkka Koivula who greets the customers, the waitress Mirja played by Nuppu Koivu and a scruffy dog. 

Kahled fits into this group of characters who offer him a home and a place where he feels like he belongs.  The restaurant is a place Kaurismäki fans will recognise with its bleak and minimalist ambience and retro feel with a picture of Jimmy Hendrix on the wall.  Kaurismäki made his reputation and established his distinctive style with his first hit Leningrad Cowboys Go America in 1989 and music has played an important role in his films ever since.  At the Golden Pint we hear old style rock and roll performed by Finnish singer Tuomari Nurmio and his band.

The film is full of wry humour despite its tragic-comic theme.  Wikström and his cast of restaurant characters deliver their lines with typical Kaurismäki deadpan style. Kahled gets beaten up by Finnish nationalist thugs calling themselves The Liberation Army of Finland. But somehow the odd group he finds himself part of show him kindness and help him to get a fake ID so he can stay in Finland.  This is a film that shows us the world can be a better place and that there is always hope even in the most unlikely places.

The Other Side of Hope (Finland, Germany)
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
Cast: Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen, Janne Hyytiäinen, Ilkka Koivula, Nuppu Koivu, Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon, Niroz Haji, Kaija Pakarinen

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