Having been one of the most well-received films at the Berlinale earlier this year, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki returns with The Other Side of Hope, which carries a droll Scandinavian wit, with stilted, endearingly unnatural dialogue. And yet amidst the laughs, of which there are many, comes a profound, pertinent tale surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis.
Sherwan Haji plays Khaled, who hides on a ship, seeking asylum and solace in Finland. Housed temporarily until he learns of the outcome of his trial, and whether he’s legally allowed to remain in Europe – he dreams only of his sister, who he had lost contact with on his route. We then encounter Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen), a restaurateur who leaves his wife and wins a lot of money playing poker, to then open up a new establishment. Initially we aren’t quite sure how both he and Khaled’s lives will intertwine, but it feels like something of an inevitability.
It’s a testament to Haji that we invest so much in Khaled’s cause, for the role comes equipped with very little dialogue, so much of the nuances are subtly presented, with an understated turn by the actor. The only real issue with the film is that too much time is spent focusing in on Wikstrom’s side of the narrative, as while the restaurant scenes in particular are incredibly funny, on the whole it may have been beneficial to focus more energy on Khaled – as its his scenes that make more of an impact.
The Other Side of Hope is released on May 26th