Kyle Cubr reviews “The Other Side of Hope” for Cine-File

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Building on the themes of immigration and refugees explored in 2011’s LE HAVRE, THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE finds Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki, tackling the refugee and humanitarian crisis caused by the Syrian Civil War. After stowing-away aboard a Polish coal frigate that lands in Helsinki, Khaled (Sherwan Haji) seeks asylum in Finland with the hopes of finding his sister, whom he lost as they fled Syria. Similarly, traveling shirt salesman Waldemar (Sakari Kuosmanen) flees his old way of life and wife after it is implied he can no longer tolerate the monotony of his current existence. After Khaled’s request for asylum is denied, he flees the immigration center in order to avoid being sent back to Syria and soon crosses paths with Waldemar who now owns a middling restaurant that employs a trio of colorful characters. THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE has a very distinct aesthetic. Its unique set design has an understated blandness that intentionally juxtaposes the bleakness shown in Aleppo after a series of bombings that make Helsinki seem like a paradise by comparison. Kaurismäki combines this aspect with masterful uses of space, especially his overabundance of physical separation of set pieces as an analogy for Finland’s remoteness in relation to the humanitarian crisis occurring in Africa and the Middle East. Kaurismäki’s film has a deadpan, dry wit to it that draws humor from the awkwardness of everyday situations. During one sequence in which Khaled is having identity papers forged for him, he exclaims, “I don’t understand humor” which serves as a reminder that sometimes its difficult to find the laughter in life when a person is too close to a situation. THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE’s unique panache and grounded story make for a delicate and delightful showcase for one of the modern world’s most pressing issues.

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