The Other Side of Hope is a unique film about the refugee crisis that is taking place around the world and more specifically, in Finland. Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee, stows away aboard a freighter headed for Finland after being separated from his sister Miriam during their journey. Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) is a traveling salesman who leaves everything behind to open a restaurant. The two characters paths eventually cross, leading to new understandings and opportunities for both men.
It feels odd to say that The Other Side of Hope is a comedic film about a dismal situation but that’s precisely what it is. Writer/director Aki Kaurismäki imbues his film with deadpan, quirky humor that never diminishes the characters or their circumstances but rather comments on the dark absurdities of the world. It is also the first film I have seen about this topic that doesn’t put those aiding refugees on a pedestal for idol worship. Wikström and others aid Khaled in his time of need not because they have formed a bond but because it’s what human beings occasionally do for each other. Not to sound flippant, but Kaurismäki makes the smuggling of a refugee across borders akin to holding a door open for someone. It’s a nice gesture that has little to do with friendship and more to do with common decency.
There is a lot of well-meaning humanity portrayed in this film, but also the dark side of human behavior as well. In Scandinavia especially there has been some extreme backlash towards the influx of refugees and Kaurismäki includes that anger and fear in the form of nationalist gangs that harass Khaled when he is out and about and vulnerable. Khaled makes friends at the refugee processing center where he and his fellow refugees are forced to wait in limbo, sometimes for years, while they wait to see if they are granted asylum. The personnel that work at the center are the refugees first contact with Finnish culture, and while some are friendly and helpful with the process, others are cold and more policy driven. The dichotomy between the two helps to further paint the picture of what these people are dealing with trying to make a new home for themselves and loved ones.
As an aside but something worth mentioning is the beautiful way this film is shot, with softly lit faces reminiscent of old Hollywood. There are some great scenes that feature, of all things, rockabilly bands in bars and on street corners (is that a thing in Finland?), that are fun to behold and add to the humor of the film.
The refugee crisis is something that, sadly, is not going away anytime soon but I can only hope that this film and more like it will help to shed light on these marginalized peoples. Films that not only humanize refugees but also normalize the behaviors of those people who choose to help rather than turn them into model exceptions to the rule. It’s only when such behavior comes as naturally to people as holding a door that mentalities around refugees will change.
The Other Side of Hope is now playing at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.