Thursday, June 7, 2018

Criterion Blu-ray/DVDebut for Aki Kaurismäki's refugee charmer, THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE

How does he do it -- Aki Kaurismäki? How does he manage to wring so much humor, charm and pathos out of what is basically just deadpan storytelling. After viewing so many of his films (Kaurismäki is shown below), I'm still surprised by each new one, often quite similar in its themes and even cast members (he uses his own ensemble most often) to what has come before. Just looking at the stills shown below from THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE, after nearly a month has gone by since I first watched the new Blu-ray from the The Criterion Collection, brings a smile to my face all over again as I remember the incidents in their quiet, crazy, sweet glory.

Kaurismäki's latest begins with maybe a nod to Samuel Beckett's Happy Days (shown below), as we meet one of our two heroes, a middle-eastern immigrant (played by Sherwan Haji) whose journey to Finland, which we learn of a bit later in the film, has been a fraught one indeed.

Part of the magic this filmmaker manages comes from his understanding of calm and how to make use of it, quietly forcing us to look, really see, and begin to somehow feel via the characters we're watching.

Sure, it's easy (well, for some Americans, anyway) to take the side of an beleaguered immigrant. But what of our other hero (played by Sakari Kuosmanen, shown center, below), a family man who suddenly leaves his wife to strike out on his own? These two could hardly seem more different at first, even second, glance, yet what binds them is the kind of common decency that unfortunately seems all too uncommon throughout the world these days.

Kaurismäki takes his sweet time bringing the two together. First we must understand each one's situation and begin to bond a little with the very idea of these guys. A restaurant, seemingly on its last legs, enters the picture, and its staff proves every bit as quietly hilarious as so much else in this Finnish filmmaker's oeuvre.

The decision to turn the place into an Asian eatery -- and what follows -- is deadpan heaven. As are many of the little musical interludes that crop up along the way.

Of course Kaurismäki courts sentimentality, basing his movie around the immigrant/refugee question and all the baggage that goes with it. Yet thanks to his innate humor, a clear-eyed look at how immigration policy often works (or actually doesn't) in the western world, and, yes, it must be said, a few coincidences, too, instead of sentimentality, the filmmaker manages something that certainly approaches, if not actually reaches, "truth".

If you've never seen a Kaurismäki movie, this one's as good as any a place to enter his world. If you already know that world, you'll probably want to dive right back into it.

The Other Side of Hope -- in Finnish with English subtitles and running 100 minutes -- hit the streets on DVD and a fine Blu-ray transfer last month from The Criterion Collection. As usual, with Criterion, there are beaucoup bonus features, so film buffs can, as ever, get their fill.

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