Running Time: 98mins
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Cast: Sherwan Haji, Ville Virtanen, Tommi Korpela, Kati Outinen, Sakari Kuosmanen and Simon Al-Bazoon
(QFT Press Screening)
A poker-playing restaurateur and former traveling salesman befriends a group of refugees newly arrived to Finland.
The Other Side of Hope is a Finnish film about a Syrian refugee. The main character is called Khaled. He’s trying to make a new life for himself in Helsinki and he’s also looking to make contact with his sister who he got separated from whilst making the journey from Aleppo to Helsinki. A decent enough hook for a story.
Things happen in The Other Side of Hope. Not very interesting things. There’s another storyline involving an elderly gentleman who leaves his wife, gambles, makes some money and decides to buy a restaurant. Just because. We’re never really told why. Maybe it’s a thing Finnish men do at a certain age.
It’s hard to come up with prose for a film so uninspiring which has as its subject matter – the refugee crisis in Syria – a hugely emotive and heart-breaking issue. A film such as this should inspire outrage, empathy and a feeling that the refugee crisis is perhaps the defining issue of our time.
When the world seems to lumber from terrorist attack to terrorist attack, how do we in the West react to those in serious need of our help whilst coming to terms with terrorism on our doorstep? Do we show compassion to those without homes where extremists have driven them out of their homeland or do we dismiss them as someone else’s problem because we have our own problems?
This film poses none of those questions, not in any effective way at least. There’s an austere simplicity to the staging, the framing and the acting that simply doesn’t convey the experiences and tragedies that Khaled has endured.
There is a scene where Khaled details to an immigration officer the horrors he’s had to deal with and encounter on his journey to get to Helsinki- and it’s truly awful and likely very close to what many actual refugees have had to face – but it never lands in an impactful way. Movies are supposed to show and not tell but this film is one big long, boring “tell”.
Structurally the film is a mess. There are scenes, seemingly random, that do nothing to advance or enhance the story. We know that Khaled and the elderly restaurant owner will encounter each other at some point (because duh, storytelling!) but it takes an age for it to happen and when it does, it lands with all the nuance and emotion of an episode of Hollyoaks. In fact the staging and acting reminded me of a soap. A really bad one but then again soap is synonymous with sucking so perhaps that qualifier is unnecessary.
There is perhaps some attempt on the part of the director, Aki Kaurismäki, at verisimilitude but that’s code word for boring in cinema (and TV too). When we go to the cinema or when we watch TV, we’re looking for a heightened version of reality. We’re looking for that thing that only story can do, which is to transform the events around us into the metaphor of story and in that transformation, find a higher truth or deeper meaning.
The Other Side of Hope does none of these things and most confusing of all, it’s described as a comedy/drama. I genuinely didn’t laugh once. There was possibly a titter in there but either Finnish humour is on a level I simply can’t comprehend or this has all the humour and comedy of an episode of Hollyoaks.
I’m tempted to think the latter and don’t be fooled by any of the 4 stars reviews of this movie. That’s liberal guilt talking and frankly the major studios should be ashamed that this topic isn’t being tackled by more experienced and seasoned film makers and actors.
The Other Side of Hope has, at its heart, a worthy story but it’s told in such an insipid and soporific way that it is extremely difficult to recommend. Best give this one a miss.