FNC 2107 Review: The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)

In a scene from Aki Kaurismaki’s film The Other Side of Hope, Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji), far left, and Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen), far right, wait for customers in Wikstrom’s restaurant.

Would it be possible to describe the films of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki without using the word deadpan? I guess so, but it’s very handy information for anyone not familiar with his work.

Another thing to know – there isn’t much talking. (We get looks, silences, and lotsa cool tunes, though!) New arrivals in Helsinki say more in their second or even third language than the native Finns do. There’s an amazing amount of smoking, considering how restricted it is Finland. Maybe it makes the chain-smoking Kaurismaki feel more comfortable when shooting.

The Other Side of Hope follows two men, before and after they meet. Khaled (Sherwan Haji), is a Syrian asylum-seeker who reaches Finland on a Polish coal boat, and Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) is a Finn making some big changes in his life. We see him (wordlessly) leave his alcoholic wife, wrap up his small clothing business, and win big at a poker game filled with menacing undertones. It feels appropriate to refer to Wikstrom by his last name because he initially seems stiff and cold, while Khaled is someone easier to relate to.

Khaled is a mechanic who left Syria after his house was bombed and most of his family members were killed. The fact that he doesn’t even know who blew up his house – the U.S., Russia, Syria, Hezbollah, or Daesh – shows just how chaotic situation is in Syria.

Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji) is threatened by vicious thugs in Aki Kaurismaki’s film The Other Side of Hope.

Khaled had jumped onto the boat in Gdansk, Poland while fleeing a gang of skinheads. Sadly, he runs into similar thugs in Helsinki. They keep turning up, like three very bad pennies. Luckily for Khaled and our faith in people, there are others who treat him well. These include Wikstrom and the quirky employees he inherits when he buys a small restaurant called the Golden Pint. Efforts to turn it into a fusion place or a Japanese one are quite funny, in a restrained kind of way. Watch for the scene involving wasabi! Speaking of Japanese, call me crazy, but Sherwan Haji reminds me of Japanese actor Takayuki Yamada. Look him up!

With The Other Side of Hope Kaurismaki is clearly asking his fellow Europeans, and the rest of us, to have a heart, just as he did the with his earlier film Le Havre (2011).

The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)
Director: Aki Kaurismaki
Cast: Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen, Janne Hyytiäinen, Ilkka Koivula, Nuppu Koivu, Simon
Hussein Al-Bazoon, Niroz Haji, Kaija Pakarinen
Languages: Finnish, Arabic, English with English subtitles
Length: One hour, 40 minutes

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