Sydney Film Festival: The Other Side of Hope

Antony Ling
15th Jun 2017

When was the last time you watched a movie about a Syrian refugee? Let alone such a funny, sweet and poignant tale at that? Hailing from the legendary Finnish film critic turned filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki, The Other Side of Hope provides an unpretentious and comedic tale that is not washed out by its sensitive political relevance.

Set in modern day Finland, Khaled (Sherwan Haji) is a Syrian refugee that arrives in this foreign country to seek political asylum. Concurrently, Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), a weary and aged businessmen specialising in clothin,g decides to change his career and buy a suspiciously too-good-to-be-true restaurant and with it three fascinating employees. Sooner or later, the paths of these two very different fellows collide.

For the sake of authenticity, it is commendable for the film to go at length by casting the Syrian actor Sherwan Haji to play Khaled. He does the job effortlessly. Haji delivers his lines with both melancholic solemnness and deadpan wit that goes hand in hand with the dramedy screenplay written by Kaurismäki. There’s something about the use of his surveying eyes which has this constant vigilance and exploration in its openness that goes to show that the man’s quiet resolve yet weariness with the world that treated him of ilk.

Kaurismäki loves his music and uses a live band and its diegetic sound to row the film onwards with resonating lyrics to match. Some may argue that this brings the whole film down to a grinding halt at times that is more artistically impulsive than thematically meaningful but it can be something that is up to personal taste. The many live performances of folk and pop ballads provide a soundtrack that acts as ligaments to the skeleton of the film focusing on giving reflection to scenes as well as a prelude to others. It also serves as a great window of culture and its inviting yet romantically foreign nature to an outsider like Khaled breeding hope and a positive message towards the many that want to seek a new and better life on new soil.

The film's cinematography brings out the grounded nature of the characters caight in the cogs of capitalism. A subtle destabilisation of the camera gives you rugged boots on the ground approach to the lifestyle of the Finnish people offering insight into the zeitgeist of a nation’s lifestyle and how it affects our protagonist.

We were blessed to have our leading actor come out on to the spotlight for a Q and A after the film. His profound insight included his mention of how professional and calming Kaurismäki is as a team player. Haji remarked on the director’s beautiful ability to make things incredibly clear for his regular film crew, resulting in a dynamic where “nobody needs to talk”. Sounds like paradise for any film shoot.

Like many amazing visionaries like Stanley Kubrick and Steve Jobs, Haji emphasised on how casually meticulous Kaurismäki wanted things to be on set. Given he was the director and the writer for his own film, he would not hesitate to stop and repaint an entire wall because it was a different shade to what he wanted. He would get upset and not be afraid to show his disapproval towards anyone that presents him anything contradicting to his original vision without good reason.

The Other Side of Hope is as charming a film as it is in its own beautiful yet mysteriously ominous title. There can be many messages to be had about the battle of cultures and how merciless bureaucracy and politics can be. But its not so dense as to make it intellectually unwieldy for an average filmgoer. On the contrary, it’s a very fun and comedic film that many can enjoy. Can’t wait for the next film by this brilliant Finlander.

The Other Side of Hope is screening as part of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival. Catch the final festival screening on Sunday June 18th