Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
Starring Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen
Finland’s most popular director, Aki Kaurismäki, claimed he was to make a trilogy of films set in port cities with themes revolving around immigration. He’s now made two films of such, with Le Havre (2011) and now The Other Side of Hope, which he now claims will be his final film. It seems unfortunate for a director of this tremendous status from his home-country making socio-politically conscious films (with a touch of humour) is now breaking away, especially given how lacklustre his last effort may be.
The Other Side of Hope focuses on two characters from very different backgrounds. Khaled (Sherwan Haji) is an immigrant who has arrived in Helsinki through some friendly help (and a large container of coal) and is keen to evade deportation so he can reunite with his sister. And there’s Waldemar (Sakari Kuosmanen), a Finnish native who divorces his wife, moves out of home, and begins a restaurant business – because why not? Their paths cross when Khaled works as a waiter at the restaurant, saving up his pennies, living in a storage closet, still waiting for his sister to arrive in the new land.
For a topic that is currently being endlessly explored by European directors, Kaurismäki puts his own clinically humorous touch on how he presents immigration in this film. It’s just unfortunate that it still does not result in a modern story of immigration that’s entirely engaging, illuminating, memorable, or even that funny.
The style in how the film paces itself out and how it divulges its bone-dry humour is going to differ in reaction from viewer to viewer – it’s a droll sense of humour, but it is hardly laugh-out-loud funny, nor does it seem bitingly satirical. The film aims to use humour in an austere manner to keep the presentation of this real-world story minimal, but it simply comes across as stilted. The middle section of the film involving Waldemar’s escapades in running a restaurant is where the film feels the least stiff and the most assured (as well as where the best jokes are).
The Other Side of Hope seems well intentioned, and its simple story is an endearing and seemingly important one, but it gets particularly muddled up in an awkward humorous style and some poorly plotted obstacles, such as the racist street thugs Khaled encounters, who seem to just pop out from behind a nearby wall like a cartoon to start trouble. It’s characters and plot diversions like these that make one wonder how it all adds up to the ending we receive. As the title suggests, there is some hope to be found in this gruelling lifestyle for these two main characters, though less hope in the film itself.
The Other Side of Hope plays at UWA Somerville from Mon 22-Sun 28 Jan, 8pm (8:30 on the 26th), and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tues 30 Jan-Sun 4 Feb, 8pm. For more info head to perthfestival.com.au.