Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2017: "The Other Side of Hope"

Michael Hayward

Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki is a master of deadpan humor, his films populated with hapless victims of circumstance who, despite frequent setbacks, continue to stumble hopefully towards dreams that seem forever out of reach.

The Other Side of Hope, Kaurismäki's latest film, opens with a shot showing a pair of white eyes barely visible in a glittering mound of coal. Gradually the figure extricates itself from the mass of coal, makes its way quietly from the hold of the cargo ship, to slip down the gangway and into the midnight streets of Helsinki. This is our introduction to Khaled, a refugee from Aleppo, Syria, who, after locating a public shower and changing into clean clothes, presents himself at the police station to request asylum in Finland.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Helsinki, Wikström, a travelling shirt salesman—who may never have had a "prime" to be well-past—decides to leave his wife and begin a new career. Wikström purchases a run-down restaurant ("The Golden Pint") in a rather dismal part of town, inheriting the restaurant's staff of three, and some delightfully absurd decor (in which a large portrait of Jimi Hendrix shares wallspace with paintings that look like something Edvard Munch might have concocted during of a particularly virulant period of depression); the perfect place to dine on fishballs and boiled potatoes.

Eventually, of course, Kaurismäki brings these two narrative threads (and this complement of rather woeful protagonists, shown above) together. To see how it all turns out, well: you'll just have to see the film for yourself (and I hope that you do). There are two more screenings at VIFF:

In The Other Side of Hope Kaurismäki's has crafted a gem of a film, taking on one of the darkest and most difficult issues of the day, and somehow, out of that darkness, finding a way to leave viewers with a glimmer of hope, and a renewed belief in the basic humanity of the common man.

According to Wikipedia, Kaurismäki announced at the Berlin International Film Festival (where The Other Side of Hope took the Silver Bear award for Best Director) that the film would be his last as a director; I hope that the report is false, or, if true, that Kaurismäki reconsiders: we need more films like his, as necessary antidotes to so much in contemporary cinema that is formulaic and clichéd.



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