Film review: The Other Side of Hope
By Cleo Fleming
To be a refugee is to wait. Wait in a camp or at a border, wait to be resettled, issued a visa or to find another option, wait to leave, wait to know, wait to return. Much of the waiting must seem endless, especially the waiting to know about family and friends at home or lost along the way. Surely most people are driven to despair?
This sense of waiting – or as one character tells us, “of neither moving backward or forward” – is at the centre of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s film The Other Side of Hope. It’s a film that has been described as both “coolly comic” and “humane”. David Edelstein got wordy in his review for Vulture and called it “tragic, funny, depressing, and inspiring”. In the New York Times, AO Scott praised it for being “a touching and clearsighted declaration of faith in people and in movies”.
The story revolves around two men. Khaled, an asylum seeker from Syria who arrives in Finland after stowing away on a container ship from Poland; and Wikström, who leaves his wife and his job, and buys a grimy restaurant that serves sardines in a can as it’s plat de jour. Wikström’s is a funny kind of mid-life crisis, but it’s one that sees him act as a saviour to Khaled.
After having his claim for asylum rejected, Khaled takes to the streets, determined to stay in Finland rather than being repatriated to Syria. He ends up sleeping behind the rubbish bins of Wikström’s restaurant and it’s here that the friendship begins, with a fist fight.
Kaurismäki cleverly injects a deadpan humour into the goings-on at the restaurant. In this otherwise heart-wrenching and sadly familiar refugee story, the gradually funnier and outrageous happenings at the restaurant draw …read more