The Other Side of Hope,

Waterloo Region Record - - NIGHT LIFE - Ken­neth Tu­ran

Aki Kau­ris­maki, the Fin­nish di­rec­tor with the eu­pho­nious name, is a film­maker who goes his own way, and never more so than in “The Other Side of Hope.”

Known for idio­syn­cratic work that is im­prob­a­ble and en­dear­ing, prod­ucts of the most dead­pan comic sen­si­bil­ity since Buster Keaton, Kau­ris­maki’s wacky films come with sui generis ti­tles like “Len­ingrad Cowboys Go Amer­ica” and “Take Care of Your Scarf, Ta­tiana.”

Yet start­ing with Kau­ris­maki’s last fea­ture, 2011’s mar­vel­lous “Le Havre,” an un­likely po­lit­i­cal sub­text has joined the mad­ness. “The Other Side of Hope” and its un­apolo­getic plea for un­der­stand­ing for refugees flood­ing Europe adds to that trend.

“In Fin­land, 30,000 Iraqi refugees ar­rived, and both the young Fin­nish and old Fin­nish took it as a war — ‘some­body’s at­tack­ing us,’ like Rus­sia 50 or 60 years ago,” Kau­ris­maki said at the Berlin Film Fes­ti­val, where his film won the Sil­ver Bear for best di­rec­tor.

“This at­ti­tude was in­tol­er­a­ble, in my opin­ion, and I didn’t like to see that in my com­pa­tri­ots.”

The story here, writ­ten by Kau­ris­maki, is sim­plic­ity it­self, the tale of two men, strangers to each other, who want to be­gin life anew on the quirky streets of Helsinki.

One man, a trav­el­ling sales­per­son named Wik­strom, is a fa­mil­iar fig­ure in the Kau­ris­maki uni­verse, a tired, mid­dle-aged man whose life is go­ing nowhere.

Wik­strom, played by Kau­ris­maki vet­eran Sakari Ku­os­ma­nen, is in­tro­duced turning his life around, start­ing by pack­ing a bat­tered suit­case and leav­ing his seem­ingly in­dif­fer­ent, al­co­holic wife be­hind.

Af­ter emp­ty­ing his stor­age unit of the 6,000 shirts that are his stock in trade, Wik­strom goes to a clan­des­tine poker game in the hopes of earn­ing enough money to ful­fil his dream of own­ing a restau­rant.

The place he ends up with, an in­dif­fer­ent seafood joint called the Golden Pint, is no one’s idea of a dream comes true, but Wik­strom has big plans for it, some cra­zier than oth­ers but all quite amus­ing to ob­serve.

Al­ter­nat­ing with Wik­strom’s saga is the story of Khaled (Sher­wan Haji), a refugee from Aleppo, Syria, who in a typical Kau­ris­maki touch, sneaks into Helsinki by stow­ing away in a ship’s enor­mous coal bin.

Khaled’s hor­rific story of death and ex­ile is de­liv­ered directly to the cam­era, no frills al­lowed.

It’s only nat­u­ral in Ak­iWorld that Khaled and Wik­strom come to­gether around that restau­rant, but that doesn’t mean things are easy.

Taunt­ing Khaled when­ever they come across him are hooli­gans from the Lib­er­a­tion Army of Fin­land, who try their best to make his life mis­er­able.

But while the con­clu­sion to “The Other Side of Hope” is open-ended, Kau­ris­maki unashamedly be­lieves in broth­er­hood, and among other things his film cel­e­brates peo­ple who do the right thing with­out mak­ing a big deal about it.

And though the di­rec­tor has be­come po­lit­i­cal, he has hardly aban­doned his off­beat, slyly ridicu­lous style, cre­at­ing a world where look­ing happy is so for­bid­den that Khaled is told that if he smiles on the street peo­ple will think he is crazy.

A big fan of rock­a­billy-tinged Fin­nish pop­u­lar mu­sic, Kau­ris­maki as al­ways finds room for mu­si­cal in­ter­ludes played by a va­ri­ety of ag­ing hip­sters.

As pho­tographed by Kau­ris­maki’s reg­u­lar cin­e­matog­ra­pher Timo Salmi­nen, the poet of de­serted streets, “Hope” indulges in the di­rec­tor’s usual fond­ness for un­likely pas­tels and bright red items like ever-present fire ex­tin­guish­ers.

Then there is that huge por­trait of Jimi Hen­drix dom­i­nat­ing a wall in the Golden Pint. As with most things Kau­ris­maki, you don’t ask what on earth it’s do­ing there, you just go with the flow.


Si­mon Al-Ba­zoon and Sher­wan Haji in “The Other Side of Hope.”

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