The Other Side of Hope The Criterion Collection
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This wry, melancholic comedy from Aki Kaurismäki, a response to the ongoing global refugee crisis, follows two people searching for a place to call home. Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a displaced Syrian, lands in Helsinki as a stowaway; meanwhile, middle-aged Finnish salesman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) leaves his wife and his job and buys a conspicuously unprofitable restaurant. Khaled is denied asylum but decides not to return to Aleppo and the paths of the two men cross fortuitously. As deadpan as the best of the director's work, and with a deep well of empathy for its down-but-not-out characters (many of them played by members of Kaurismäki's loyal stock company), THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE is a bittersweet celebration of pockets of human kindness in an unwelcoming world.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION:
-New 2K digital transfer, approved by director Aki Kaurismäki, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
-New interview with actor Sherwan Haji
-Footage from the press conference for the film's premiere at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival, featuring Kaurismäki, Haji, and actor Sakari Kuosmanen
-AKI AND PETER, a new video essay by filmmaker Daniel Raim, based on a 1997 essay by critic Peter von Bagh, to whom THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE is dedicated
-PLUS: An essay by critic Girish Shambu
This wry, melancholic comedy from Aki Kaurismäki, a response to the ongoing global refugee crisis, follows two people searching for a place to call home. Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a displaced Syrian, lands in Helsinki as a stowaway; meanwhile, middle-aged Finnish salesman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) leaves his wife and his job and buys a conspicuously unprofitable seafood restaurant. Khaled is denied asylum but decides not to return to Aleppo—and the paths of the two men cross fortuitously. As deadpan as the best of the director’s work, and with a deep well of empathy for its down-but-not-out characters (many of them played by members of Kaurismäki’s loyal stock company), The Other Side of Hope is a bittersweet tale of human kindness in the face of official indifference.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED DVD SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
- New 2K digital transfer, approved by director Aki Kaurismäki
- New interview with actor Sherwan Haji
- Footage from the 2017 Berlin Film Festival press conference for the film, featuring Kaurismäki and the film’s actors
- Aki and Peter, a new video essay by Daniel Raim about the friendship between Kaurismäki and film critic Peter von Bagh, to whom the film is dedicated
- Music videos
- PLUS: An essay by critic Girish Shambu
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The film consists of two converging plotlines. In one, the aging salesman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen, a longtime member of Kaurismäki's acting stable) leaves his wife, wins a lot of money in a poker game, and decides to open a restaurant. In the other, the Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji) arrives in Helsinki after fleeing war-torn Aleppo and wandering across half of Europe, but he is worried about his sister that he got separated from along the way. Wikström and Khaled eventually meet and become friends -- or the closest thing to friends that Kaurismäki's exaggeratedly cold and morose Finns can get to each other. Before that, however, the Wikström plotline serves to inject some humour, albeit of an extremely deadpan sort, into a film that, though Khaled, explores the depressing lives of refugees who are shuffled from one center to another and forced to wait for their cases to be processed.
For three decades now, Kaurismäki has made all his films to a very distinctive template that virtually never varies. Its characters speak a minimum of dialogue to each other and show little expression on their faces. The sets are drab in colour and deliberately anachronistic, with gadgets, vehicles or clothes from the 1950s alongside computers and mobile phones from our time. At some point, a band will appear on stage playing oldies rock, blues, or Finnish tangos as the characters look on.
TOIVON TUOLLA PUOLEN doesn't stray from that template either. Still, the script has enough fresh moments to it that it will feel worthwhile evento longtime Kaurismäki films who have sat through this template many times before. Some of the humorous bits are laugh-out-loud funny, but overall this does feel like a darker film than most of the director's work. It is ultimately a choked, restrained cry of rage at the way that refugees are treated, by a Nordic society that prides itself on fairness, equality and charity. While Kaurismäki is roughly on the left politically, several of his films have attacked the Finnish welfare state for its opaque bureaucracy and its reduction of human beings to mere papers in a government file. This film continues that critique by depicting the refugees, who come from many countries but manage to band together to lend each other help, as the sort of neighborly solidarity that Kaurismäki prefers to faceless bureaucracy.
I personally wouldn't find this the best introduction to Kaurismäki. His earlier film MIES VAILLA MENNEISYYTTÄ ("The Man Without a Past") depicted with more meat on its bone a down-on-his-luck man lost among bureaucracy, while the über-idiosyncratic romantic comedy VAROJA PARATIISISSA ("Shadows in Paradise") is one of Kaurismäki's best achievements in deadpan humour. Still, TOIVON TUOLLA PUOLEN seems to tell a story universal enough to pull on everyone's heartstrings and is worth seeing.