The Other Side of Hope

The Other Side of Hope
The movies of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, with their deadpan drollery and aquarium light, have long been a habit-forming pleasure. But increasingly they are something else, or something more. The issue of migrants and refugees from the Middle East may still be something from which cinema mostly averts its gaze. Not Kaurismäki’s cinema. With his previous film Le Havre, and this very sympathetic and charming new work, The Other Side of Hope, Kaurismäki has made refugees his focus – and done so without appearing to change style or tonal tack. His humane comedy, with its air of unworldly absurdity, has absorbed this idea, but not undermined its seriousness in any way, in fact embraced it with almost miraculous ease and simplicity.

He has an unselfconscious directness and avoidance of cynicism or defeatism, at once unsentimental and yet almost childlike. Recently, I wrote about the rerelease of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 movie Fear Eats the Soul, about a middle-aged German woman falling in love with a Moroccan migrant worker, noticing for the first time how Kaurismäki had surely been influenced by the cool, comic tableaux that Fassbinder created for his rackety barroom scenes. Yet maybe he has absorbed something else: Fassbinder’s compassion.

It is a movie that takes two plot strands: the refugee from Aleppo and this refugee’s unlikely rescuer, a former travelling rep dealing in men’s shirts who is making a determined effort to break into the restaurant business.

Sherwan Haji plays Khaled, a young mechanic from Syria who finds his way into Finland by stowing away on a container ship full of coal. Kaurismäki contrives a somewhat bizarre moment when Khaled emerges from a heap of this coal, almost Keatonesque in his inscrutability. He calmly makes his way to shore. It has something of the beginning to Kieslowski’s Three Colours: White, the same tinge of unreality. But Kaurismäki is in no way soft-pedalling Khaled’s experiences in the interests of comedy. There is hardship, heartbreak and racist violence in store for Khaled, as well as official heartlessness.

Meanwhile, Sakari Kuosmanen plays Wikström, a guy whose marriage has collapsed and whose sole possessions appear to be a grim lockup garage in the middle of town and a big, old-fashioned car in which he travels from city to city attempting to talk the gloomy proprietors of clothes shops into buying his shirts. One of these, played by Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen, has a drily amusing speech, declining the chance to buy out the whole business on the grounds that she is retiring to Mexico to “dance the hula-hula” – an oddly Polynesian thing to be doing in Mexico. But an extraordinary adventure in a casino gives Wikström a new career direction and a chance to help Khaled.

Kaurismäki’s kind of mannered, controlled comedy might just induce alienation in the hands of another film-maker, but here it is quite the opposite. However ridiculous the story is, and its intensely managed ridiculousness is part of the attraction, there is always sympathy, a lightness of touch. We have sympathy for Khaled, and for Wikström, and we believe in their sympathy with each other.

There is a scene in a refugee reception centre between Khaled and an Iraqi man, Mazdak (Simon Al-Bazoon), who has befriended him and gives him very important advice on how to behave. It is not just a matter of fitting in and learning the language, he says. It is all about being cheerful, happy, smiling. People like this are those who will be allowed to stay; the sad ones get sent home. But not all the time, he counsels him: don’t smile in the street or you just look crazy. Happiness, cheerfulness, laughter itself – these are commodities that must be carefully handled for an asylum-seeker. Too little and officialdom won’t like you, too much and your plight will not seem sufficiently sad, damaging your “deserving poor” status.

Kaurismäki’s own comedy is as finely balanced. The refugee is not treated with the solemn, distanced language of news or documentary, but with the expertly judged comic quirk that at first seems mannered and inauthentic but actually gives us a poetic way of relating to the character as something other than a case study, a human richness and paradoxical realness, in a language which provides a way of imagining the inner life.

- Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

The Other Side of Hope

Fri March 9, 2018, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium

Director: Aki Kaurismäki, Writer: Aki Kaurismäki, Cast: Sakari Kuosmanen, Sherwan Haji, Simon Al-Bazoon, Janne Hyytiäinen, Nuppu Koivu



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Virtual titles to stream from home

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Sprocket Damage
: Sprocket Damage digs deep(ish) into current and classic films and film-related subjects to bring to you insightful, humorous, and enlightening perspectives on the industry.

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Thu Jan 26, 2023

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Thu Feb 2, 2023

Groundhog Day

At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...