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February 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If film critics decided who would win the top award at film festivals, this year’s Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival — the Berlinale — would almost certainly go to Finnish director Aki Kauismäki’s comedy Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope). With the other 17 films entered in the competition receiving poor-to-mediocre notices by and large, Hope shines as the only film that has garnered praise from nearly every critic here. (The final four competition films are scheduled to be screened today.) Unfortunately critics don’t decide the winners at festivals; an elite group of filmmakers compose festival juries — this one is headed by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Total Recall)– and their final selections are often reported as “surprises” — with the critics themselves being the ones who are surprised the most. They are likely to be especially surprised this year if Hope is passed over. While Hollywood films often take years to emerge from screenplay to final release, it is difficult to imagine a more timely film than Kauismäki’s, concerned as it is with the contemporary plight of a Syrian refugee. That would appear not to be the premise for a comedy. “Can we laugh at everything?” asked Nicolas Barotte in France’s Le Figaro. “Even the thorny issue of migrants? Yes, the Finnish filmmaker maliciously responds in his new film.” “The film,” wrote Ryan Gilbey in Britain’s Guardian, “goes to great lengths to illuminate the experience of Khaled [the central character] and others like him. Without sacrificing his usual drollery, Kaurismäki explores the humdrum reality of what it might mean to be a refugee.” Tim Robey in the London Telegraph, noting that the film manages to save “this year’s Berlin competition slate almost single-handedly from the doldrums,” observed that Kauismäki “doesn’t flatter his countrymen by overstating their welcome to the likes of Khaled, who is mercilessly pursued by far-right bullies, nearly set on fire, and inexplicably addressed as ‘Jewboy’ at one point. But we know who this filmmaker’s kind of everyday heroes are: great in a crisis, even if they look like they’d barely give you the time of day.” And David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter agreed, adding that “it’s difficult to imagine anyone coming away from Aki Kaurismaki’s gorgeous tragicomedy about the refugee crisis in Europe … without feeling gentle elation sparked by the story’s evidence of human kindness amid cruelty and indifference.” Only Owen Gleiberman in Variety takes issue with the film’s perspective, commenting that “if the situation and the sentiment seem made for these times, there’s something a little too old-fashioned — too cozy and complacent — about how Aki Kaurismäki has basically concocted a liberal message movie that casts its refugee hero as a saintly victim and invites the audience to pat itself on the back for its enlightened views.”