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Film Review: The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Aki Kaurismäki, Finland/Germany

It was no surprise that Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki won the Golden Bear for best director and the Silver Bear for best film for The Other Side of Hope. First, he chose a highly political theme this year that is currently polarizing Europe, especially in countries with upcoming elections. Refugees? Take them or not, and, when you do take them, what do you do with them? How do you treat them? He said, when he saw a rather large number of Iraqi refugees come into his country, Finland, which has a relatively small population; he saw how people were afraid of them and closed contact. They were not willing to help them and, instead, showed hatred and racism. This inspired him to make this film trilogy. I believe that he works in this humorous satirical style in order to reach out to a bigger audience. Perhaps people will see themselves in this film and not be so afraid or see the absurdity of how doing the wrong action doesn’t help anyone get further along in the society.

The film follows two very different characters that cross paths and what happens at this intersection. Our hero Wilström (Sakari Kuomanen) leaves his alcoholic wife, quits selling business shorts, wins a fortune at poker and decides to follow his dream. He buys a rundown restaurant called the Golden Pint which includes three lost and dysfunctional employees. He has big plans to turn it around and is willing to work hard to do it. On the other side is Khaled (Sherwan Haji) a Syrian asylum seeker who arrives in Helsinki full of soot from hiding on a coal freighter. Upon arrival he immediately goes to the police station so he can request asylum and join in on the economic opportunities there, while, at the same time, he tries to find and save his lost sister. Between the cigarettes, a band playing in the background and the impassionate police, Khaled finds his way into this new, oddball, warm-hearted restaurant’s family, where his life begins to change or does it really?

The film is off-beat, minimalistic satire describing the plight of the refugees as they embark on a journey into the immigration maze of Finnish bureaucracy. Kaurismaki’s characters often seem simple and straight-faced but underneath have a lot of compassion and kindness and the motivations are not always what they seem. The dialog often has a slap-stick feel about it and there is not much music except for a live band that is perfectly integrated into the narrative as well. This is the second film in his trilogy; the first one being Le Havre. H chose to work with the refugee theme because he was appalled at his fellow countrymen’s terrible behavior towards the influx of refugees coming to Finland, who needed understanding and help, not violence and discrimination. I can hardly wait to see what comes next.