Review / ‘The Other Side of Hope’ (M) *** and a half

WHO’S Finland’s best-known filmmaker ?

Aki Kaurismäki.

Never heard of him? That’s sad, because since his debut in 1983, he has made 17 movies embodying compassion for underdog characters. The dialogue is laconic, usually articulated without adornment, direct and in strict standard language, showing little emotion or drama.

When Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) has a big win in a poker game, he splits with his alcoholic wife (Kaija Pakarinen) and moves to another town where he buys a run-down restaurant and its three lugubrious employees.

In a hold on a collier, Khaled (Sherwan Haji) digs himself out of the cargo, sneaks ashore and with the help of fellow Iraqi Mazdak (Simon Al-Bazoon) sets about locating his sister. Mazdak is legally in Finland and has contacts.

Khaled gets a job in the restaurant, where he and the staff try to drum up trade by adapting cuisines from foreign lands. Khaled falls foul of an anti-Semitic group. The lost sister becomes found. An anti-Semitic bully stabs Khaled in the belly. Wikstrom encounters his wife who’s been on the wagon since he left her. Folk musicians sing charming songs of rural innocence at natural pause points in the story.

This collection of events doesn’t strike you as all that funny? Look more closely at what, despite all his stylistic quirks, Kaurismaki is delivering – incongruous, wonderfully poignantly comical vignettes of the human condition in a country about which I imagine few of us know much beyond the names of one of its national heroes, Jean Sibelius or the manufacturer of interesting fabrics, Marimekko.

You may not find reason to laugh mightily but you will find much at which to smile.

At Palace Electric

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