Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Other Side of Hope (2017 EIFF 14)

I’m ending the year with a film I watched at the Edmonton International Film Festival in October but have not yet reviewed. There is a reason I have not yet reviewed The Other Side of Hope, the latest film from Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki, namely that this highly acclaimed film, one of the films I was most looking forward to watching at the EIFF, disappointed me.  

I’ve enjoyed all the Kaurismäki films I’ve seen (his last film, Le Havre, was one of my favourite films of 2011), not least because his heart is in the right place (his films are always humanizing), his films are profoundly European in the best sense, and he is an absolute genius at deadpan humour. But it was the humour that didn’t work for me in The Other Side of Hope, because the plot was, at times, just too incredible (and too silly) for me to enjoy.

That plot concerns a young (20-something) Syrian refugee named Khaled (Sherwan Haji), who stows away on a freighter to Helsinki, and his relationship with a dour, middle-aged salesman named Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), who uses his poker winnings to buy a questionable restaurant, where Khaled will work with three eccentric characters: a waitress (Nuppu Koivu), a chef (Janne Hyytiainen) and a maître d’ (Ikea Koivula). 

Wikström in some ways represents Finnish people in general, people who always seem world-weary but treat kindness as an obligation. With beautiful cinematography, great locations, fascinating characters and solid acting to go along with its humanizing story, The Other Side of Hope should indeed have been the great film I was expecting. But it just didn’t click for me. Nevertheless, I still award it somewhere between *** and ***+. My mug is up.

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