The Other Side of Hope is Aki Kaurismäki’s follow up to his 2011 film Le Havre. The two films tackle similar thematic and political topics and contain similar plots, both stories involving young refugees befriending an older local. Still, The Other Side of Hope doesn’t seem to sit in the shadow of its predecessor. It still maintains an originality and the fresh wit that has carried Kaurismaki’s long career as a satirist.
The film tracks Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Finland as he looks for his long-lost sister, and Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen), a middle-aged Finnish man who decides to buy a restaurant after splitting up with his wife. In a sense, it is a story of crisis and rediscovery for both protagonists, with a focus on Khaled’s more tragic path as he confronts immigration authorities and a group of violent white nationalists.
As a relatively young fan of Kaurismaki’s work, it was really eye opening to feel how effective his political satire is in addressing present political environments. Khaled talks to his family living on the outskirts of Aleppo in Syria and he deals with the bureaucracy and the cold reality of the process of seeking asylum as a refugee in Europe. The topical political commentary adds to the depth of character offered by Kaurismaki’s script. Without a doubt this is present in most of his films, but there’s something to be said for engaging with the work in the moment. Political satire often loses some sense of authenticity when you view in in retrospect.
Perhaps the most effective and real moment of political commentary is when Khaled is actually reunited with his sister. Though she is happy to see him again, Kaurismäki doesn’t offer the sense that she considered herself to be in the peril that her brother viewed her in. What’s more, she is prepared to go back into war torn Syria to be reunited with her family. It’s an interesting take on the crisis and offers another side of the refugee experience. Where Khaled is determined to escape his bad situation, his sister has adapted to life in a volatile and difficult political climate.
And, miraculously, The Other Side of Hope also serves as one of Kaurismäki’s funniest films. Fans of his past work will know that his style of comedy can vary, starting at the extremely deadpan. This film’s laughs seemed pretty accessible for the most part, and the goings on at Wikstrom’s restaurant felt particularly slapstick. Though these more lighthearted comedic moments perhaps diminish a little bit of the film’s power, they boost its viewability and make The Other Side of Hope a great entry point into Kaurismaki’s films.
Aside from being merely an entertaining and interesting film, The Other Side of Hope is an important work of political commentary that views the refugee crisis in Europe sympathetically through the eyes of a refugee. It exists as a worthwhile entry into the filmography of one of the great satirists of our era.