A rare moment at the Berlinale film festival, actor Sakari Kuosmanen breaks into a Finish Tango during a press conference, instigated by director and screenwriter Aki Kaurismäki. The actor and the director have known each other for 30 years. Their latest collaboration: Kaurismäki's Berlinale entry, The Other Side of Hope - the story of a Syrian refugee and a Finish salesman.
"I was very modest. I didn't want to change the audience; I wanted to change the world..."
...says Kaurismäki about his new film.
"But my manipulative abilities are not good enough, so I think I have to limit it to change Europe."
The Other Side of Hope focuses on two very different men: Khaled, a young refugee from Aleppo, who ends up in Helsinki on a coal freighter, and Wikström, who leaves his alcoholic wife and old profession behind and buys a shabby restaurant. 40 minutes into the movie, the two characters lives converge at the restaurants garbage can.
First, they get into a fight. Then, Wikström employs Khaled and gives him a place to stay. Kaurismäki's motivation for his portrayal of an unlikely friendship stems from Finland's hostile response to refugees, explains the film-maker to the International Press.
"The attitude for the refugees was intolerable in my opinion; that they would be stealing my new car, or the wax that I polish my car with, or at least the brush which I use to wax to polish my car. Anyways, they will steal something," says Kaurismäki.
Melancholy and humor are Kaurismäki's trademarks since his cult film Leningrad Cowboys Go America from 1989. In his new film, Helsinki looks like it's stuck in the past somewhere around the '70s and '90s. People still use typewriters. The dialogs are minimal and no one ever smiles; but there are plenty of absurd scenes in The Other Side of Hope.
When Wikström changes his simple restaurant menu to sushi, his small crew, including Khaled, wear kimonos and swords. Once they run out of tuna they prepare Sushi with salted herring. It's these comical situations that bring the characters together. Khaled is played by Sherwan Haji. He was a television Actor in Damascus before moving to Finland in 2010.
"Personally I think it doesn't matter where you come from to act and to work with other actors; it's like football," Haji says.
At the press conference for The Other Side of Hope, Kaurismäki's dead pan humor triggered a lot of laughter. But the filmmaker had a serious message as well:
"We are all the same; we are all human and tomorrow it will be you who will be a refugee. Today it's him or her," Kaurismäki expresses.