The Deadpan Humanism of Aki Kaurismäki

By Adam Cook

DMs75cUVoAUMU2ZThe Other Side of Hope, 2017, directed by Aki Kaurismäki

Finland’s longstanding master filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki has been an internationally reputed and award-winning director since he broke out in the late 1980s. Now entering his 60s, he’s back with another classic that may stack up against his very best work. Known best for 1996’s Drifting Clouds and 2002’s The Man Without a Past, Kaurismäki has put together a remarkably consistent body of work of 20 features and counting. His first in 6 years, The Other Side of Hope is easily one of 2017’s most memorable films and an altogether distinct take on the refugee crisis filtered through Kaurismäki’s singular style.

Set in Helsinki, the film follows two completely different characters in parallel who will eventually come to meet. The first is a middle-class man named Waldemar who seemingly dissatisfied with his life, abandons his partner and their apartment in the opening scene—we’re not given a reason why and in fact throughout the film, things play out with minimalist detail with sparse dialogue—and decides to open a new restaurant. Meanwhile, a Syrian refugee named Khaled arrives ashore and seeks asylum and work while also trying to locate his missing sister. With Kaurismäki’s token sense of humour, he nevertheless takes a stark and melancholic look at the immigrant experience and both the humanity and inhumanity that awaits refugees in European countries such as Finland.

The Other Side of Hope will be playing at Vancity Theatre between December 15th and January 4th, check the website for showtimes. We’ll also be showing two of Aki Kaurismäki’s most eccentric works, Leningrad Cowboys Go America, about a Siberian rock band who set out to make it big in the United States, and a concert documentary follow-up, Leningrad Cowboys: Total Balalaika Show, that captures this fictional band’s real-life concert with the 150-member Alexandrov Red Army Chorus and Dance Ensemble.

If you’re new to Kaurismäki, his latest film and these oddball cult favourites are a great way to get acquainted. For the uninitiated, here are some of the director’s signature qualities:

Deadpan Humour
There’s no shortage of deadpan humour in films, especially in the Euro arthouse world, but Kaurismäki has a tone all of his own. It’s in the register of a certain Finnish tradition of comedy dating back before cinema. You won’t always laugh out loud, but take note of how the director uses deliberately stilted delivery, awkward pregnant pauses, and minimal sound to create a strange comic atmosphere.
Leningrad Cowboys Go America, 1989

The Sweet & Sour
A natural genius when it comes to visual comedy, Kaurismäki is also something of a social realist, often taking on contemporary themes from the perspective of working-class protagonists trying to make a living and facing societal obstacles. A clever critic, Kaurismäki blends these disparate instincts to create films that are light on their feet but don’t shy away from reality.C-xZjwkXsAAROkJ
Leningrad Cowboys Go America, 1989

Precise Framing
Like many of the greatest directors, Kaurismäki’s films are immediately recognizable to the eye due to his precise approach to composition. Leaning towards clean, colourful frames that are deliberately simple and never busy, the stylized storytelling gives his films a fable-like quality that emphasizes the importance of the characters and their immediate surroundings.
The Other Side of Hope, 2017

In The Other Side of Hope, the film oscillates between silly humour to straightforward drama to cutsey animal moments to brutal violence to touching gestures of kindness. While there are elements of the sentimental in his work, Kaurismäki’s films achieve a balance in which simple happy endings may not exist, but the prevailing worldview is one that values the possibility of human connection in an otherwise difficult existence. It is this measured outlook that makes instances of generosity and warmth all the more powerful.the-other-side-of-hope-02-1
The Other Side of Hope, 2017

The Other Side of Hope screens Dec 15 – Jan 4 at VIFF Vancity Theatre.
Leningrad Cowboys Go America screens Saturday, Dec 16, 10.30pm.
Leningrad Cowboys: Total Balalaika Show screens FridayDec 22, 9:15pm.

Tickets at

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