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Fans of Finland’s pre-eminent auteur Aki Kaurismäki will be pleased to know that his latest, The Other Side Of Hope, offers all the elements they’ve come to expect of this über-stylist. If you’re unfamiliar with Kaurismäki’s work, it can be hard to describe, but I’ll have a crack: think Twin Peaks David Lynch interior compositions, Jim Jarmusch sound design and framing, and Derek Jarman production design, telling simple, human stories with the driest humour possible. Everything is shot on sets, with the walls behind the actors inevitably lit with long, threatening shadows that give every scene a sinister feel. The actors are placed just so, rarely move, and perform at a slightly tranquilised level (think Yorgos Lanthimos’ use of actors, such as in The Lobster). The results are absolutely unique to Kaurismäki, and his films all stylistically fit together; they form a universe.
Here, Kaurismäki – who often tells ‘foreign’ stories – is back in Helsinki, telling the story of two men re-inventing themselves, one perforce, one (sort of) by choice. Khaled is a Syrian refugee who has ended up in Helsinki seeking asylum; Waldemar is a middle-aged businessman, a totally establishment Helsinki figure, who leaves his wife and sells his rag trade business, re-inventing himself as a restauranteur. The film follows their trials and travails, first on their own, then together. It’s funny, warm, and full of compassion. Dare I say it: it’s a “feel-good refugee movie”, but with integrity and pathos.
If you’re a fan of Kaurismäki, you’re already there. If you’re a newbie and curious, this is a perfect opportunity to dip your toe in, as it’s representative of his finest work. He’s not for everyone, but if you like what you see, there’s a whole world of his to discover.