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Other Side of Hope, The/Toivon tuolla puolen

9/10

Stars: Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen, Janne Hyytiäinen, Ilkka Koivula, Nuppu Koivu, Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon, Niroz Haji, Kaija Pakarinen

Director: Aki Kaurismaki

Kaurismäki’s witty and thoroughly entertaining comedy-drama, which won him Best Director at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, follows the unlikely but emotionally convincing friendship that develops between two – on the surface – vey different protagonists.

The first is Syrian asylum seeker Haji, who arrives by boat in Helsinki after hiding out in a coal container whose dust leaves him even blacker than much of the acidly funny comedy that ensues when, after showering the grime off his body and cleaning up, he turns up at a local police station seeking asylum and is greeted with “Welcome, you are not the first”,.

Kaurismäki’s second lead character is former shirt salesman Kuosmanen who, having won a fortune at poker and walked out on his alcoholic wife, buys a failing restaurant and sets out to make a go of it.

Before long Haji has fallen foul of detention centre officialdom and makes a run for it, serendipitously running into and bonding with Kuosmanen and going to work in his restaurant…

Kaurismäki’s droll blend of comedy, satire and suspense is perfectly mixed and cooked to perfection on both sides of the camera.

And not all just simply blackly comic - the Finish-Nazi thugs who attack the immigrant on the streets are truly chilling and all too credible.

While character is as important – if not more so – than plotting, the various makeovers of the restaurant as a sushi joint (with soused herring having to be used as a replacement for salmon), Chinese cuisine and also as a curry house are wittily created while every performances, large and small, is picture perfect.

And better still, screenplay and direction are entirely aimed at telling its story as well as possible rather than grandstanding as an auteur.

A real gem and well worth the six years wait since his last feature.

Alan Frank

Finland/Germany 2017. UK Distributor: Artificial Eye. Colour.
100 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 27 May 2017