The Other Side of Hope
by Aki Kaurismaki (2017)
not the most promising subject-matter for a laugh-out-loud comedy. Even
a black one. In Finnish.
(Sherwan Haji) has lost almost his whole family after his home in Aleppo
was bombed and become one of many thousands of Syrian refugees heading
west to escape the horror. Along the way he loses his sister, his last
surviving relative, and flees racists by jumping on board a ship at
Gdansk that, by chance, lands him in Helsinki, where he seeks asylum.
and there is more obvious comic potential here, travelling shirt
salesman Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) leaves his alcoholic wife, sells
his remaining stock and wins a rather far-fetched hand of stud poker to
fund the purchase of a ‘restaurant’, the name of which translates as
The Golden Pint. It’s what those in the pub trade call ‘wet-led’.
in the purchase are the three employees, drawn from Finland’s cupboard
of assorted comic character actors, who will soon be joined by a fourth
– none other than Khlaled, who is on the run after the immigration
people come to the bizarre conclusion that Aleppo is perfectly safe and
he should be deported back there.
finds him making his bed behind the bins, and following a perfunctory
altercation and a punch on the nose, takes a shine to him and gives him
a job and somewhere to sleep.
apart from the fascists and the authorities, pretty nearly everyone is a
nice person more than willing to lend a hand to a fellow human being
fallen on hard times.
is, when you take a moment to think about it, an entirely realistic
depiction of most of society, and Kaurismaki does not try to complicate
Khaled himself appears grieving and grimly determined, the actors around
him give us little in the way of emotion, simply reading their lines and
keeping a distance between themselves and their roles, Brecht-style.
creates space for a dead-pan humour that works even through the medium
of subtitles, and there are some delightful set-pieces.
he needs to develop the food side of the business (“Why?” asks the
chef), Wikstrom ambitiously introduces a sushi menu, kitting out the
staff in traditional costume and miraculously attracting a coachload of
Japanese on the first night.
doesn’t go well, though, and we’re soon back to meatballs and boiled
obviously more fun than Aleppo (except to the immigration board),
Helsinki doesn’t exactly come across as a great holiday destination.
It’s drab, damp and austere, half-stuck in the 1950s, a bit like the
future envisaged by Terry Gilliam’s Brazil where computers coexist
hospitality is unsmiling, yet unconditional. Strangers are welcomed
without hesitation, and in one scene where Khaled is attacked by the
local fash a motley and aging band of folk, one of them on crutches,
appear from nowhereto see them off.
and with a minimum of fuss, Kaurismaki shows us a world that’s the
other side of mere hope, a world where, despite the horrors and despite
those in power, ‘ordinary’ people just get on with doing what they
have to do to help each other get through.
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