Plot: What’s it about?
Aki Kaurismaki’s, a low-key Finnish director has a new film: The Other Side of Hope. Kaurismäki manages to have a unique style of comedies that are also melancholy. A couple years ago, Criterion released Le Havre. It impressed me with its genuinely sweet approach towards the hard issue of immigration. After watching that film I watched La Vie Boheme, and enjoyed it also. When I saw a new film to check out by him, I couldn’t resist a blind purchase.
The central story follows two characters: Khaled (Sherman Waja,) a Syrian refugee who makes his way to Finland, and Waldemar Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen,) an older gentleman who sells off his business and through some unique twists of fate ends up in the restaurant business. Khaled seeks asylum in Finland and finds that his set of circumstances may not allow him to stay in Finland legally. Waldemar finds himself running a struggling restaurant with a cast of interesting employees that have no ability to draw in business. Khaled and Waldemar eventually cross paths.
The Other Side of Hope deals with a difficult topic in a very humane way. The topic of Syrian refugees and the ongoing war in Syria have been much discussed in both the United States and in Europe. Regardless of your stance on what should be done with the refugees from that country, there is no way to deny that what is occurring there is tragic. Watching the film, it will be obvious that the director and writer of the film wants to help the refugees and accept them into his native country. If you find this stance to be completely against your own beliefs, you may find it hard to enjoy the film.
Personally, I really enjoyed the film. Kaurismaki does an excellent job of developing the two main protagonists of the film with very little dialogue. He is one of the few directors that I think could make a completely silent film now and have it resonate with audiences. The pacing of the film is pretty brisk at just an hour and forty minutes, but Kaurismaki allows the scenes some breathing room before cutting to the next scene. It is an approach he has used before and fans of his cinema will not be thrown off by this. The writing is strong throughout the film with believable actions from his cast of oddball characters. Kaurismaki also has a strong sense of how to make an audience laugh without showing anything in particular that is laugh out loud funny. As a worker in the restaurant industry, I particularly enjoyed the scenes that take place in the small restaurant that they continuously rename and redirect.
The acting is solid in the film. Newcomer Sherman Haji is very believable as refugee Khaled. His interview scenes for asylum in particular are very effective. Kaurismaki regular collaborator Sakari Kuosmanen turns in a great and understated performance as Waldemar Wikstrom. Both actors carry their portions of the film and have good chemistry when placed together.
Like other Kaurismaki films, the soundtrack is really interesting and enjoyable. Kaurismaki is well known for his films about the fake band the Leningrad Cowboys and he has a great musical touch for his films. This film has some cool sounding Polish rockabilly and blues that gives the film a great mood.
Overall, this film puts a very human face on what can easily come across as just statistics and numbers. I really enjoyed the film and feel confident most people will enjoy the story it tells.
Video: How’s it look?
Criterion continue to show exactly why they are the most revered distribution group for films out there. The new 2K 1080p transfer of the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 looks fantastic. Like other Kaurismäki films, this film is a little soft in focus, but I believe that Criterion have done it complete justice. Fine detail and clarity are excellent and the 2K scab from the 35mm print seems pristine. Fans should be excited to see more Kaurismäki in their hands.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Criterion Collection have provided a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that made me very pleased. This is a dialogue driven affair, but, like other Kaurismäki films, it features a great soundtrack of Finnish songs ranging from rockabilly to the blues. Dialogue is crystal clear. There is no hiss. There are no cracks, thumps, or anything to distract from the film. Great stuff.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Sherwan Haji – this interview with the actor who played Khaled shines some light on the processes used by Kaurismaki during the making of the film. Sherman lived in Syria and is an immigrant himself, so he gives his story of how he ended up in Finland. His story is very different from Khaled’s story and shows the better side of the system. Overall, an enjoyable interview.
- Aki Kaurismaki at the Berlin Film Festival – The panel of Aki Kaurismaki and actors Sakari Kuosmanen and Sherwan Haji are asked questions from the audience. Interestingly enough almost al of the questions go to the director, leaving the other participants sitting there with little to do.
- Aki and Peter – a brief and loving tribute to Peter von Bagh. An essay from von Bagh is read aloud to images from Aki’s films.
- Music Videos – four music videos with full versions of the songs that are heard in The Other Side of Hope.
- “Kaipunni Tango”
- “Midnight Man”
- “Skulaa Tai Felaa”
- “Tama Maa”
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
The Other Side of Hope, like Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre, puts a very human face on a problem that is easily lost in the statistics that blast through the news each night. I really enjoyed this sweet little film and think that most people who watch it will enjoy it. Criterion have provided a little less special features than usual, but I enjoyed what they offered up. I definitely recommend checking this film and other Kaurismäki films out. He is so good at infusing melancholy with sweet comedy, it is hard to resist the charms of his films.