Fine Humanity and Rock ‘n’ Roll

in 67th Berlin International Film Festival

by Dubravka Lakic

There are many reasons why I like films made by Aki Kaurismäki, even though they resemble each other, and why I found his latest flick The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla pollen) to be one of my favourites at the 67 th Berlinale.

First, I adore Kaurismäki as an artist who, on different levels, persistently stays true to himself, to his own stylistic aesthetics and poetics. He remains faithful to his role as a champion of socially marginalised, little, but good people, and, in keeping with his own humane character, creates for them a world he is dreaming of, gathering, one by one, those fine individuals into a kind, compassionate and caring humanity on the silver screen.

Another sign of Kaurismäki’s constancy is the fact that all of his films are approximately 90 minutes long, for if that amount of time isn’t enough for you to put your message across, it’s all to no avail. When nature calls, there is no force that can restrain the viewer from exiting the theatre before the end of the film, urged by their “need to go”. Kaurismäki already avoids such a pitfall at the stage of writing the script, which, in his case, is never extensive or overly elaborate. He doesn’t use too much dialogue and, therefore, there is no excessive talking. His heroes are of few words. The expressions on their faces, usually without any gestures, speak volumes.

Also, Kaurismäki is consistent in the patient and always personal choice of music. The good old rock ‘n’ roll is always at hand, retro but absolutely in keeping with the overall image that his films project, as if they have resurfaced from the ’70s cinematography.

All the above mentioned is contained in Kaurismäki’s black-humoured film The Other Side of Hope, which was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 67 th Berlinale.

Thematically, this is a sort of sequel to his previous film, Le Havre. Thus, it is about refugees, but this time they’re not Africans, instead they’re Syrians. More precisely, it talks about a Syrian man named Khaled (Sherwan Haji), whose face emerges from the coal dust on a freighter that has just sailed into the port of Helsinki. Khaled is seeking political asylum, but the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies him on the grounds that the situation in Aleppo, from where he has fled, isn’t that serious. Poor Khaled has no other choice but to run and hide.

He finds shelter in a restaurant situated on the outskirts of the city. There he becomes part of an unusual, motley crew of weird characters so typical of Kaurismäki, led by the restaurant owner Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), in a kind of a harmonious restaurateur utopia, through which Kaurismäki expresses his firm belief that the world could be a better and more beautiful place to live in. If only Khaled had not experienced that bloody encounter with a bunch of neo-Nazis, members of the so-called Army for the Liberation of Finland. Furthermore, if only European bureaucracy would show at least a grain of empathy.

This simply narrated and visually magical story that is told without accelerating the rhythm holds a powerful humanistic message. The compelling colours Kaurismäki uses further emphasise the effect. The matt, bright blues, reds, greens, whites and oranges and the seductive play of light both corroborate and reveal the atmosphere (cinematography by Timo Salminen) of this fine film shot on 35 mm (once again a retro effect).

After watching it, the audience gets the feeling of belonging to a group of good people. They feel better and more humane and that there is still hope in this chaotic world of corrupt morals.

Aki Kaurismäki is among the few film artists who don’t bury their heads in the sand when confronted with the refugee crisis on our continent, which has raised questions no one has yet been able to answer. Kaurismäki doesn’t stay silent. He has attempted to offer an honest, human solution. This should be appreciated, especially as, in this day and age, it’s such a rarity.

Edited by Yael Shuv