Thursday, November 30, 2017

Kaurismaki’s latest film brings ‘Hope” to adult viewers

Tired of seeing movies made for children, teens, or urban hipsters? Then sink into the world of Aki Kaurismaki, where people smoke, drink, listen to old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, and speak only when they need to.

Kaurismaki, Finland’s finest export, is a master of subdued melodrama and wonderful deadpan humor. He’s thankfully been able to keep making “small movies” (the best kind) on a regular basis. His latest, The Other Side of Hope, opening today in NYC, fits in with his terrific preceding film, Le Havre (2011), as its plot revolves around immigration in Europe and counteracts its grim exterior with a warm heart and lovingly jaded humor.

Not one to produce didactic works, Kaurismaki seems to have gravitated to stories about immigrants because they dwell in the same world as his working-class Finns — they are lonely yet belong to a misfit community, live for their paychecks, dream of a better life, and many are prone to smoke, drink, and listen to their favorite music in bars and restaurants. One immigrant character here sums it up when he notes that immigrants are “invisible” to the average person (as are working-class people to the upper crust). 

The Other Side of Hope offers us one such gent, Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee who lands in Finland by chance, moving westward in his journey. After he flees a “reception center” (where immigrants find out whether or not they can stay in Finland or will be deported), he gets a job at a failing restaurant run by an ex-traveling salesman, Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen). The restaurant workers aid Khaled in trying to find his sister, who has been missing since she left Syria.

Perhaps the most engaging thing about Hope is that Kaurismaki doesn’t ignore the real-life peril his characters face but also adds whimsical fairy tale aspects to his sagas of “marginal” people. Here Khaled is at one point nearly beaten to death by skinheads but is saved by a rather unexpected deus ex machina. Kaurismaki is one of the truly great anti-Spielbergian filmmakers who presents us with a somewhat realistic vision of the world, but then does allow his characters a hint of escape from the harrowing side of everyday life.

His films are structured like melodrama but have the tone and rhythms of comedy. The struggles of the characters in the restaurant are wonderfully limned, as they change the cuisine and décor of the place several times to see if they can attract a clientele. The best incarnation is their time as a Japanese restaurant using local products (including sushi made from herring).

The performers are all perfectly cast and balance the comedy and drama very well. They bring Kaurismaki’s bleak-seeming but very funny script to life, while we hear the characters’ favorite music, ranging from Syrian folk tunes to classic rock ‘n’ roll.

The leisurely pacing and absence of any kind of over-the-top action may turn some viewers off. But the low-key brilliance of Kaurismaki’s work proves that you don’t need CGI or unsubtle action or comedy to make a successful movie — just a tight script, great performances, and a seemingly cranky but still idealistic artist behind the camera.

1 comment:

northierthanthou said...

Sounds interesting, I must check this one out.