Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Other Side of Hope

The movie starts with a man emerging from a pile of coal in a ship: I thought he was a stowaway, but its a bit more complicated than that. He got into a bit of a skirmish and dashed onto the ship as a hiding place, falling asleep not much later. When he awoke, he found he was on his way to Finland - home country of the film's director, Aki Kaurismäki. One thread explored in the movie is Khaled's attempt to find a home in Finland - first as an asylum seeker (he is Syrian).
There's not much joy in being an asylum seeker, so there are few laughs to be had here (the message that they always send the melancholics back drew a laugh from the audience), although the visit he pays to a pub with a fellow asylum seeker has an example of the dry humour at work. He asks the barman for a beer "now" "you mean immediately?" "yes". The barman looks more like a depressive undertaker, someone who's going to refuse service but instead he produces two handles of pre-poured beer. Poor Khaled is refused asylum on the ground that Aleppo is perfectly safe - that night, the tv news runs the story of the blowing up of the children's hospital there.

Wikström separates from his wife: no words are exchanged, he just puts his keys and wedding ring on the table - she places the ring in an ashtray and stubs her cigarette out on it before taking another swig. Wikström drives off in his cool old car
has a good poker win and spends the money on a restaurant - the cook and the waitress are like zombies, and the food is clearly terrible. The cook smokes all the time: even when standing asleep, a cigarette droops from his mouth and his special of sardines and potatoes involves a can of sardines with the lid rolled halfway. The restaurant is a disaster but when Khaled appears, he is taken in.
Music is a pretty big thing in the movie - there's a fair amount of Finnish country music (quite doleful) on the soundtrack and several bands are shown.
They do try to improve their fortunes by changing the restaurant's direction: Imperial Sushi lasts just the one night, the night a busload of Japanese tourists just happen to arrive. The sushi is about as authentic as you might expect - salted herring on piles of rice with large gobs of horseradish. The tourists are chatty before the food but file out silently. By the end, everyone seems to be smoking.
Sadly, not all are as kind to refugees as Wikström and the crew at the restaurant - Finland has a racism problem, and this is brought to the fore towards the end of the movie. No matter how bad it is, however, Khaled still wants his sister to seek asylum there.



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