Ostensibly the middle film in Aki Kaurismäki’s still in the works Le Havre harbor trilogy (following 2011’s Le Havre), The Other Side of Hope is another eccentric humanist tale from the forever happy-sad Finnish auteur.
Once again achieving the blissful balance between melancholy and mirth, Kaurismäki offers up flapdoodle optimism in this shaggy-dog detour involving a former shirt salesman named Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), now on the outs with his wife but keen on playing a high stakes poker tour, and a Syrian refugee named Khaled (Sherwan Haji), who is desperate to find his missing sister, Miriam (Niroz Haji).
The Other Side of Hope displays some of Kaurismäki at his bittersweet best, though it must be said that a good deal of the film feels a little bit like self-plagiarism. There’s the wry comedy we’ve come to expect from Kaurismäki, to be sure, but with all the cigarette smoke, surfeit strumming guitar, and even an adorable dog, the worst thing you can say about this movie is that we’ve driven down these vodka-splashed streets before.
But is that really such a bad thing when the recognizable route has so many comically dark distractions, stylistic circuits, and unique alternate routes? And mixed amongst the familiar is the director’s quirky yet critical commentary on the present refugee crisis in Europe, and it isn’t all laughable, either.
Khaled spends some time being slapped around and disgraced as the authorities at last determine he is to be sent back to Aleppo––his flight via the Balkan passage and the separation from his sister is all in vain. Until that is, when Khaled, fists swinging, comes into contact with Wikström, who by this time has cashed in his poker winnings and bought a rundown restaurant called the Golden Pint.
The pairing of Wikström and Khaled––together the unalike outsider pairing that Kaurismäki so frequently fancies––along with the indigent rabble already working at the restaurant, just might have the mettle and the good fortune to work things out.
That this motley crew of men and women unite almost without discussion, agreeing to help Khaled and his sister they’ve yet to meet, because it’s the right thing to do, illustrates the working faith that Kaurismäki has always had in humanity, and it’s this hangdog optimism that has endeared him to us in the first place, is it not? Touched by the silly and the serene, The Other Side of Hope is a warm and whimsical reward.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.