The story comes over almost as a religious parable for our times pitting Nazi-skins against homeless saviours of the night. There is no excuse for being inhuman, not even dire poverty.
Aki Kaurismaki has returned with the second part of his trilogy that began with the 2011 Le Havre in which a down-at-heel shoe-shiner helps a young African boy steer clear of the police. In “The Other Side of Hope” migrants are again the centre of the story. Khaled (acted by Sherwan Haji), is a Syrian who arrives in Helsinki as a clandestine migrant in a coal freighter. He applies for asylum at the local police station and is eventually befriended by Wikström (acted by Sakari Kuosmanen) who has just walked out on his wife, made a pile at a local poker game and set himself up as a restaurant owner by buying a grungy locale. He proudly announces that he has no friends when asked what his friends call him for short. But this is a Kaurismaki film so his heart is in the right place despite being the epitome of grumpy.
Khaled plays it straight by applying for asylum through the correct channels while he tries to find his sister who he has lost touch with during their travels away from bombed-out Aleppo. He is eventually told that his application for asylum has been turned down as Aleppo is considered by the authorities as “safe enough” to go back to, and we are treated to a televised bombing raid of Aleppo to show the inhumanity of the Finnish authorities. Humanity and inhumanity are the keys to the movie. Just as Kaurismaki called financial austerity a form of economic sadism, the European policy towards migrants is a crime against humanity. He did find time in his press conference to praise Angela Merkel as being the only politician with a sense of justice and solidarity given her policy towards accepting migrants from war-torn Syria.
The film is faithful to Kaurismaki’s own austere approach, with its simplicity and awkward absurdist humour with a backdrop worthy of a Flemish master crafted by the Finnish director of photography, Timo Salminen who is worth his weight in gold for any film-maker.
The setting is traditional Kaurismaki with chain-smokers, boozers, people living on the margins of society in a strangely antique world where policemen still use typewriters. Kaurismaki has cut everything down to the bare essentials of who is humane and who is not, who offers solidarity and who does not. The story comes over almost as a religious parable for our times pitting Nazi-skins against homeless saviours of the night. There is no excuse for being inhuman, not even dire poverty. For Kaurismaki fans this will be a delight, for those new to the Finnish director this be like opening a door to a whole new vision of life, that is tinged with helpless optimism, grim reality and a grand moral struggle.
It is an Aki Kaurismaki movie so obviously a must.