Aki Kaurismäki has long been an inspiration for the idiosyncratic and independent cinema of Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers) in uniting deadpan comedy with beaming humanism. And The Other Side Of Hope, the latest from Finland's most internationally well-known writer-director, is no exception. The award-winning feature gets a Madison premiere as part of Cinematheque's "Premiere Showcase" with support from the campus' Middle Eastern Studies program. Pitched as a timely sociopolitical commentary, which complements the compassionate character of his last film, Le Havre (2012), about immigration from Gabon, The Other Side Of Hope finds Kaurismäki turning his lens to the Syrian refugee crisis in his thematic home of Helsinki.
Sakari Kuosmanen plays Waldemar Wikström, a traveling clothing salesman, who suddenly quits his profession and sells off his inventory. Feeling lucky, he decides to bet that money in poker, and ends up with an extravagant sum to purchase and refurbish a restaurant. Soon, he discovers asylum-seeker Khaled (Sherwan Haji) hiding out near his new venture. Learning of his citizenship debacle after arriving in Finland on a cargo ship, Waldemar decides to hire Khaled on as part of the staff. In their ensuing friendship, Kaurismäki enriches his narrative with a starkly muted color palette, measured doses of slapstick, and lively, inviting soundtrack of rautalanka (Finnish folk rock). Not only is the film ultimately one of the director's sharpest and most affectionate, but it rightfully criticizes an unforgiving modern bureaucracy. —Grant Phipps