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The Other Side Of Hope

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday May 15, 2018
The Other Side Of Hope

Where do you go when you can no longer stay where you are?

For most people, the question applies to work, or to relationships. The answer is fairly obvious, even though it may entail pain, turmoil, hardship, and - at least temporarily - misery. But for millions around the world, it's a question with more existential implications, and nowhere is this more true right now that Syria, where - as we learn from the booklet essay that accompanies this Criterion Blu-ray release of Aki Kaurismäki's funny, highly stylized, and profoundly humanistic film "The Other Side of Hope" - it's estimated that half that nation's people have been ripped from their homes and their daily lives by chaos and unrest.

Syria is only the most extreme example in an ongoing refugee crisis, in which millions of people who can no longer safely stay in their homelands are driven to seek safety and opportunity elsewhere. Sadly - but predictably - the people in nations where refugees hope to start new lives of peace and prosperity are alarmed at the prospect of an influx of "others" with different customs, faith traditions, languages, and appearances. Perhaps more than any other single factor, a reflexive rejection of such "others" is driving a resurgence of nationalism and racism, abroad as well as right here in the United States.

Kaurismäki investigates the complexities and the costs of the refugee crisis by following two protagonists: Waldemar (Sakari Kuosmanen), a Finnish businessman who has bailed on a toxic marriage and a stultified career, and Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee who has made his way to Finland but hopes to locate and reunite with his sister, with whom he lost contact in the shuffle of his international peregrinations.

We're about halfway through the movie before the two men's stories intersect and intertwine, and their first meeting - a fistfight - is hardly propitious. But the two form a bond, and soon Khaled is working at Waldemar's struggling restaurant. The men make progress in their respective quests for new lives, though not everything shakes out in a necessarily happy way; such is Kaurismäki's quirky, and yet realistic, manner of telling stories.

Criterion doesn't often release such recent movies under its imprint ("The Other Side of Hope" was released just last year), though it does, on occasion happen (as was the case with the documentary "Cameraperson"). For Criterion to bring a film out is a stamp of approval no cinema lover should ignore; for them to jump n a movie in this way is something akin to sending up a flare, telling us this is a film to pay attention to, with, and cherish. They're not wrong about this, Kaurismäki's self-proclaimed final directorial undertaking. "The Other Side of Hope" is art doing what art is supposed to do - and seldom has the medium of film been employed in a more artful way.

The film is presented in a 2K hi-def edition, with a small raft of features. Sherwin Haji (himself a Syrian now living in Finland, though via a different set of circumstances than those of his character) appears in an interview about his background and experiences; there's a press conference attended by Kaurismäki, Haji, and Kuosmanen. (Among the highlights: Kuosmanen belts out a song.) Daniel Raim provides a video essay about Peter von Bagh, a filmmaker and critic and close friend of Kaurismäki; von Bagh died in 2014, and "The Other Side of Hope" is dedicated to him. There are also music videos (the full versions of three songs that appear in the movie), plus, of course, the booklet essay by American film scholar Girish Shambu.

"The Other Side of Hope"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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