The Other Side of Hope ★★★★

Kaurismäki’s often been an explicitly socially conscious filmmaker, so seeing him once again take on the plight of refugees in Europe comes as no surprise. What does surprise, at least in my interpretation, is the degree to which he uses this tale of displacement… very much his bread and butter… as an opportunity for self-interrogation. Few auteur films this year will likely feel as deliberately metatextual as this. The story here asks how Finland can shift itself to accommodate a refugee while Kaurismäki himself seems to ask, “How can my style accommodate this man and his story?” Kaurismäki has always reeked of empathy, but Hope is much more concerned with the outsiders that it depicts than his similar Le Havre was. At no point is this more evident than during the scenes in which Khaled, the Syrian refugee, recounts his haphazard journey to Finland. Here Kaurismäki seems to stand aside, allowing this narrative to surface and resurface, overtaking the film, as his camera stops to listen. It’s not the only instance of such, and these moments of acknowledged difference are arresting breaks from the filmmaker’s usual tendency to make light of suffering. Beyond this, many of the most compelling observations of the film are those that underscore Khaled’s incompatibility with his new culture. Ever the humanist and optimist, Kaurismäki wants to believe that a new, stronger Finland will emerge from this situation, but even he must admit that all the wasabi in the world can’t make salted herring in sushi forgivable.