The Other Side of Hope, the new film from Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki, is a tale of … two tales. In one narrative strand, we meet Khaled, an illegal immigrant from Syria, who is hiding out from law enforcement while trying to make ends meet and search for his missing sister. In the other, we follow Wikstrom, a Finnish shirt salesman who sells his inventory to buy a restaurant. These two plot threads eventually intersect in a satisfying way, but the whole is never really as good as its component parts.
Kaurismaki is well-known for a string of absurdist comedies that utilize long takes and a static camera to wring the laughs out of uncomfortable situations. In The Other Side of Hope, his presentation is more conventional, relying on his wry script to deliver the humor. In one scene a fellow immigrant is teaching Khaled how to blend in with his Finnish neighbors and discourages him from appearing depressed. He says, “All melancholics are sent back. Just don’t smile in the street, they might think you’re crazy.” In one of Wikstrom’s scenes, he discusses what type of restaurant he might open. His female friend advises him on alcohol sales saying, “People drink if times are bad. Even more if things go well.” Clearly, this is a film of dry wit and not knee-slapping guffaws.
Deadpan humor is an acquired taste. I much prefer Kaurismaki’s approach over Yorgos Lanthimos’ (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) dark-to-the-point-of-suicide take on the form. Lanthimos reduces his characters to stoic robots who deliver funny lines, but they never really resonate because you never see them as actual people. They are simply constructs for Lanthimos’ dialogue. Through his writing and directing, Kaurismaki manages to retain the humanity of his characters, even as they find themselves in absurdly funny situations.
Earlier this year, the George Clooney-directed film, Suburbicon, attempted to stitch two diverging stories together to disastrous effect. The movie played like two 50-minute short films haphazardly cut together, and neither strand was a satisfying narrative. With The Other Side of Hope, Khaled’s tale is the more interesting of the two. He is the emotional core of the film. I found myself wishing that the time spent at Wikstrom’s oddball restaurant was instead used to give me more of Khaled’s story. So, in true show biz fashion, Kaurismaki left me wanting more. Just not maybe in the way he intended.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.