The Other Side of Hope is (apparently) the last film from Aki Kaurismäki, but it’s the first I’ve seen from the Finnish auteur. If The Other Side of Hope is representative of Kaurismäki’s filmography, it’s fair to say that he’s an acquired taste. There’s a dry, distancing deadpan to the proceedings, as we follow the twin narratives of recently divorced shirt-salesman (Sakari Kuosmanen) and Khaled (Sherwan Haji) a Syrian refugee seeking asylum. Each navigates the cultural and bureaucratic complexities of modern-day Finland, all portrayed with po-faced sincerity.
It wasn’t until about the hour mark of the film – the point at which the two storylines intersect – that I began to groove with Kaurismäki’s vibe. An aesthetic that had earlier seemed overly-affected now prompted laughter, especially when the (former) shirt-salesman’s recently-purchased diner attempted to reinvent itself as a sushi restaurant. My scepticism turned – finally – to enjoyment.
I suspect that my next Kaurismäki will be more immediately appealing, now that I’ve conditioned myself to appreciate his distinctive approach. What ultimately turned me around was the way he marries black comedy traditions with an empathetic, humanistic approach, lacking the pessimism that’s so often paired with this aesthetic. Not for everyone, but worth a look.