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Film review: The Other Side of Hope – Aki Kaurismaki’s take on Europe’s refugee crisis is a funny, angry gem

The Finnish director takes a wry look at the refugee crisis in Europe in this story of a Syrian immigrant in Helsinki. The film, which won him best director in Berlin, is both angry and humorous, and ‘bursts with humanity’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 November, 2017, 7:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 12:12pm

4/5 stars

From Michael Haneke to Gianfranco Rosi and Ai Weiwei, the refugee crisis across Europe has been inspiring artists and filmmakers of late. Yet it might come as a surprise to see the droll Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki turn his lens towards it – and do so with such venom.

The Other Side of Hope, despite being instantly recognisable for Kaurismaki’s deadpan wit, feels like the angriest film of his long, distinguished career. Quite rightly, it won the Finn the best director award when it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year.

His first film since 2011’s Le Havre , another film that dealt with illegal immigration, the story begins as Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji) arrives in Helsinki after stowing away on a coal freighter. He’s on a mission looking for his sister, from whom he’s been separated, after most of their folks were killed in Aleppo.

Best of Berlin 2017: On Body and Soul wins the Golden Bear, Aki Kaurismäki and Sally Potter

Khaled’s application for asylum becomes an almost Kafka-esque journey through endless state bureaucracy. It’s only when he meets travelling salesman-turned-restaurant owner Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) that his luck changes.

This being a Kaurismaki film, humour laces everything – particularly scenes in Wikstrom’s dreary eatery The Golden Pint, where you can practically smell the stale cigarette smoke and badly-cooked sardines. There are musical interludes too, from Tuomari Nurmio, conjuring up memories of Kaurismaki’s earlier Leningrad Cowboys Go America.

But for all its quirky touches, the narrative doesn’t spare its ire when it comes to the plight of refugees and the treatment many endure. This is a film bursting with humanity.

The Other Side of Hope opens on November 23

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