Tuesday 24th July, 2018

The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)

Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Screenplay: Aki Kaurismäki
Stars: Sherwan Haji (Khaled), Sakari Kuosmanen (Wikström), Kaija Pakarinen (Wikström’s wife), Niroz Haji (Miriam), Janne Hyytiäinen (Nyrhinen), Ilkka Koivula (Calamnius), Nuppu Koivu (Mirja), Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon (Mazdak), Kati Outinen (Store owner)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 2017
Country: Finland / Germany
The Other Side of Hope Criterion Collection Blu-ray
The Other Sideof Hope

The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen), the second of Aki Kaurismäki’s planned trilogy of films set in port cities, takes place in Helsinki and, like its predecessor, Le Havre (2011), deals in deadpan, but sympathetic and humanist terms with the thorny issue of immigration. In this case, the immigrant is Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee who lost most of his family in an errant missile strike during fighting between the government and rebels in Aleppo. He arrives on a cargo ship, emerging silently like a ghost from a massive coal pile, after which he seeks asylum from the Finnish government. He is also searching for his sister, Miriam (Niroz Haji), with whom he escaped Syria, but then lost while traversing Eastern Europe.

However, the film is not just about Khaled’s plight, as Kaurismäki also focuses on Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), an aging shirt salesman who decides to leave both his wife (Kaija Pakarinen) and his career in a bid to restart his life. He takes what money he can earn from selling the remainder of his inventory, wins big at a high-stakes poker game, and then buys a failing restaurant that employs only three people, all of whom are skeptical of his intentions. With his hangdog visage, opaque manner, and minimal use of spoken words, Wikström is something of an enigma, at least to those not familiar with Kaurismäki’s tendency to center his films on alienated Finnish men; when asked what his friends call him, he replies simply, “I have no friends.” Yet, as the film unfolds, he is revealed to be an object lesson in humanity and decency, a fundamentally unheroic man of minimal dreams who makes the decision to help someone at a time of great need—Kaurismäki’s modest proposal about how the world can be made into a better place.

In virtually all of his previous films, Kaurismäki has centered his sparse narratives on those at the margins, and in recent years he has moved his focus to people of color displaced from their homelands and struggling to find their place in Europe. Le Havre, which is an even more optimistic film, told the story of an African child being protected by an eccentric bunch of neighbors in France, and The Other Side of Hope does something similar in drawing together a group of disparate characters via their combined efforts to help an outsider, a stranger, who otherwise has no one and nothing. Khaled’s plight, which is made all the more emotionally wrenching when the Finnish government rejects his asylum status for official-sounding reasons that are nevertheless indefensible, is both deeply specific to the film’s time and place and ageless in its evocation of alienation and dislocation—a stranger in a strange place in need of nothing more than common decency.

And that is precisely what Kaurismäki’s films offer: a portrait of human beings responding to fellow human beings in a way that makes you not want to leave humanity behind. Kaurismäki is no fool, of course, and The Other Side of Hope also depicts humanity at its worst via group of skinheads who do to Khalid what all racists and xenophobes do—deny his humanity—which he also suggests none too subtly in his depiction of the government as a business-like operation that goes through the necessary motions and machinations, but accomplishes little more than reducing people in need to case files that need to be processed. And, while the film ends on an ambiguous note that leaves many questions unanswered, it is impossible not to sense that Kaurismäki hopes for the best in producing films such as this that shine a light on our potential to do good in a world that often seems so lacking in it.

The Other Side of Hope Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
Audio Finnish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
SubtitlesEnglish
Supplements
  • Video interview with actor Sherwan Haji
  • Footage from the press conference for the film’s premiere at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival
  • Aki and Peter video essay
  • Music videos
  • Trailer
  • Essay by critic Girish Shambu
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    SRP$39.95
    Release DateMay 15, 2018

    COMMENTS
    Aki Kaurismäki continues to shoot his films on 35mm celluloid, and Criterion’s beautiful presentation of The Other Side of Hope comes to us courtesy of a director-approved 2K transfer of the original camera negative. The image is clear and sharp, with excellent detail, contrast, and shadow detail, all of which is powerfully on display in the shot in which Khaled emerges from the coal pile. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack was mastered from the original digital audio master files. Much of the film is dialogue with only minimal environmental sound, but the surround channels kick in when the film makes use of a wide variety of nondiegetic songs at various points. In terms of supplements, the biggest is half an hour of footage from the press conference following the film’s premiere at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival featuring Kaurismäki (who is just as deadpan and humanistic as his films) and actors Sherwan Haji and Sakari Kuosmanen . There is also a new video interview with actor Sherwan Haji (15 min.) and Aki and Peter (12 min.), a new video essay by filmmaker Daniel Raim based on a 1997 essay by critic Peter von Bagh about Kaurismäki’s body of work, (Kaurismäki dedicated The Other Side of Hope to von Baugh). Finally, there are four music videos of songs that appear in the film and a trailer.

    Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (3)

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