Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Other Side of Hope: two solitary men, droll humour & human kindness (QFT until 1 June)

A refugee flees Aleppo in Syria with the only family he has left after an attack on his home. Losing his sister, Khaled (played by Sherwan Haji) makes his way to Finland on board a coal ship and claims asylum in Helsinki.

Local man Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) walks out of the family home, sells his shirt business and takes over a struggling restaurant with three pre-existing staff.

After an early near-collision of their paths, in The Other Side of Hope we watch the two solitary men separately adapt to their new situations before their timelines once more combine.
“You might be wiser, but I am older – let me make a call”

The dialogue is often sparse – though sprinkled with brilliantly unexpected droll exchanges – leaving much of the absurdity resting in the visuals alone. A police man uses a digital camera to photograph Khaled and an electronic fingerprint scanner, while bashing out the asylum request on an old manual typewriter.

The film’s billing as a ‘deadpan comedy’ is somewhat overcooked. There’s certainly a prospect of death and plenty of pans in The Golden Pint’s kitchen, but the moments of obvious humour are spread surprisingly thin across the 98 minute movie.

Writer and director Aki Kaurismäki manages to inject a lot of reality into an asylum process which is peppered with state obfuscation and the kindness of ordinary citizens who lend a hand (or look the other way) at key moments. But it’s not a saccharine treatment full of happy reunions. The violent targeting of Khaled was not left behind in Aleppo but follows him to Helsinki.

The banal is twisted, the mundane somehow exaggerated like a filmic version of a Magnus Mills novel. We never get much back story for the minor characters. They just exist to inject ideas to move the plot forward to its ambiguous conclusion.

A strange film, oddly satisfying in a humdrum fashion as it contrasts the plight of refugees with other people choosing to make fresh starts. The Other Side of Hope will equally amuse and bemuse audiences in the Queen’s Film Theatre until 1 June.

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