The Other Side of Hope
Rating: 3.5 / 5
There’s very little that is comic about the status of refugees fleeing terror and desperately trying to be accepted in a country where peace reigns, but The Other Side of Hope is a wry refugee comedy with a fundamentally optimistic vision of a troubled world.
Part of the Scandinavian film festival, its Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki, tells the story of Syrian asylum seeker Khaled (Sherwan Haji) as he flees war-torn Aleppo with his sister Miriam after most of their family is killed in an explosion. They become separated, and Khaled takes refuge in the coal cargo hold of a ship that soon sails for Finland.
Our first meeting with our handsome hero is seeing him climbing out of the coal pile, covered in coal dust. He ends up in a reception centre, where he begins the long and negative process of trying to get asylum. When it is denied, he flees and is discovered sleeping behind the garbage bins of the down at heel Golden Pint restaurant.
Restaurant owner Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) has also embarked on a life change, leaving his wife and shirt business and buying the Golden Pint, to fulfil a dream of being a restaurateur.
When Khaled is discovered, the gruff Wikström offers him a job which he embraces with open arms. Of course, there is the slight problem of identity papers but there are ways and means around that.
This is not a feel-good film where everyone has a fairytale ending, but a realistic look at what it might be like for a refugee desperately trying to get a new start in a country where bombs don’t rain down frequently.
In The Other Side of Hope, we see the best and worst of human nature. Several times, Khaled falls victim to fascist Finnish punk gangs, wearing their nationalistic slogans. We gasp when they attack Khaled, and the lack of humanity and sheer brutality is shocking. But Khaled is a survivor and doesn’t let this treatment embitter him—it just makes him more determined to make his new life in Finland with the acceptance he receives from other Finnish people.
While the system that rejects him is heartless, we also see the best of humanity in the team at the restaurant, who accept him and protect him from the authorities. To them, he is a human being who needs a little help.
There is lots of deadpan humour in this film, often involving the fact that, while Wikström thinks he will make a terrific restaurateur, he doesn’t have a clue. When he decides to improve the menu, he asks what is trendy, and the Golden Pint becomes a sushi restaurant, with a kitchen team that has no idea how to make sushi!
There are many warm moments of humour in this film that tackles a serious topic. While at the end we don’t know what the future is for Khaled (or his sister Miriam), we see that our hero is determined to achieve his dream of being a survivor in a new county.
Highlight: the humanity and wry humour
Red flag: some graphic violence and adult themes