It's become exhausting to evaluate the worth of films based on their timeliness or how they offer an escape from reality. So you may be wary walking into The Other Side of Hope, with its title reminiscent of a self-help book and its politically neat logline of a Syrian protagonist finding new life in Helsinki.
But this is Aki Kaurismaki, the Finnish director behind The Match Factory Girl (1990) and Le Havre (2011), and he's better at executing this type of socially conscious story than most. The Other Side of Hope is a spiritual sequel to Le Havre; both are sympathetic pictures of refugees without being overtly weepy or sentimental. They also share that very specific Kaurismaki aesthetic, with minimal production design and a simple cerulean palette, with great cinematography by Kaurismaki's regular director of photography Timo Salminen.
The Other Side of Hope is also very funny, never losing sight of the droll, comic upside to life. Kaurismaki, who also wrote the film, evinces his usual compassion for his main character, here a Syrian refugee named Khaled (played by first-time actor Sherwan Haji) seeking political asylum. Early on, Khaled is almost hit by a Finnish man in a car. That man turns out to be Wikstrom (played by Sakari Kuosmanen, another Kaurismaki regular), a shirt salesman who buys a restaurant called The Golden Pint. Wikstrom hires Khaled and pays him under the table and even helps him get paperwork later.
Despite much deadpan comedy and eccentric characterization, Kaurismaki anchors the film in Khaled's story and his immigration anxieties, depicted with quiet humanity. It's a beautiful film that will gently warm your cold, cynical heart.