Khaled (Sherwan Haji) emerges from the soot ready to start a new life in Finland after escaping Syria and the brutal Civil War. Upon arrival he announces himself at the Migrant Detention centre so that his application for asylum to Finland is processed. The application is rejected, however, and whilst living on the streets he meets Finnish restaurant owner Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) who befriends him.
If you are in anyway privy to stereotypes of Finns, then you will know that they are know to be quite a stoic, emotionless lot. So deadpan comedy and Finland goes as well as France does with the image of man wearing a beret riding a unicycle. The Fins supposed refusal to show emotion is something that is joked about in Aki Kaurismäki’s latest film where it was stated that a character would be deemed insane if they were to walk around the streets smiling.
The expressionless and straight faced humour often hits the mark (the various failed escapades of the restaurant are highlights) and the delightful sight gags work brilliantly because of how surprising they are. The bizarre setting matches the film’s deadpan humour as it appears that the story takes place in this parallel world Helsinki where everything seems to be jarringly dated and archaic.
Outside of the Deadpan humour is a timely story considering the current migrant crisis, and it’s a story sensitively told as Khaled has to deal with cold, detected and out of touch officials, racist thugs and on the more positive side, kind and warm Finns. Sherwan Haji is superb in the role, portraying a great sense of pride and strong resilience despite the horrendous circumstances Khaled has endured.
Despite the deadpan humour, and seemingly expressionless performance of the actors, the migrant story has a strong emotional weight that engages the audience, and drags them into the story. It’s a mark of a great director to combine a deadpan delivery with an important and sensitive issue and come out with a film that’s perfectly impassive in its humour and performances and yet greatly poignant. This is because The Other Side of Hope isn’t an impassive film at heart, there’s a strong statement that condemns the coldness of officials in such a clear case of a life or death situation.