Nobody does wry, mannered comedy quite like the Nordic countries. Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki is best known on these shores for his unimpeachably hip Leningrad Cowboys Go America, and his new film, The Other Side of Hope, fits squarely into the canon. Khaled (Sherwan Haji) is a Syrian refugee who seeks asylum in Helsinki while searching for his sister, and finds himself up against both a labyrinthine immigration system and some very overt racism, including a group of white nationalists who appear to have been patterned after the Baldies from Philip Kaufman’s The Wanderers.
Meanwhile, middle-aged businessman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen, one of the original Leningrad Cowboys) decides to buy a restaurant, in spite of knowing nothing about that particular biz. Khaled and Wikström’s paths eventually cross after Khaled’s asylum request is denied, though Kaurismäki seems as interested in the struggles of running a restaurant as in the immigration crisis. Aside from the roving Nazi gangs and officious bureaucrats, Helsinki is an otherwise pleasant place where rockabilly music is never too far off, and the director’s humanism shines through. For that matter, when compared to the most recent Scandinavian movie it resembles formalistically, Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope may as well be a Capra picture.
The Other Side of Hope
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.