What is the other side of hope?

By Randall Rowe, PhD Student, Department of Slavic and Eastern European Languages and Cultures

On January 19th, the Global Mobility project hosted a film screening at the Wexner Center for the Arts of The Other Side of Hope (dir. Aki Kaurismäki, 2017). This film depicts the experience of a Syrian refugee who has fled to Finland to apply for asylum. One of the protagonists, Khaled, has encountered carnage in his home city of Aleppo, was separated from his sister when fleeing across the Turkish border, and was assaulted by Polish neo-Nazis. Upon arriving in Finland via a shipping container, Khaled meets Wikström, a middle-aged man who has a recent windfall of cash from a successful poker game. Their first meeting occurs after Khaled has escaped a detention center (after being denied refuge and sentenced to deportation) and is apprehended and jumped by racist thugs of the “Finnish Liberation” movement. When Wikström encounters an injured Khaled outside of his restaurant, a fight between the two protagonists breaks out and comically ends rather quickly with Khaled working in Wikström’s restaurant. The unlikely gang of coworkers come to accept Khaled into their ranks, and they band together to help bring Khaled’s sister to Finland. After successfully arriving in Finland from Lithuania, Khaled’s sister seeks asylum at the police station just as Khaled had done. Indeed, many migrants leave their countries of origin with the hope that their situation will improve, but a migrant’s journey is often long and treacherous. The Other Side of Hope attempts to address the migration experience through Khaled’s story of uncertainty, disappointment, and – finally – reunion.

Khaled, in a somewhat typical situation for refugees, is subjected to long periods of waiting that often end in rejection. He seeks asylum through the official channels and is then assigned to a detention facility, where he waits for his fate to be handed to him by a court. Khaled flees the facility and ends up in Wikström’s restaurant because he is left with no other recourse after being denied asylum. The arrival of Khaled among the ranks of Wikström’s employees facilitates a change for the restaurant. Tired of waiting for customers to wander into the restaurant, Wikström and the others attempt (unsuccessfully) to change the menu and atmosphere in order to drum up business. It is as if both protagonists were waiting for one another to improve each other’s lives.

(Prof. Vera Brunner-Sung (left) and Prof. Johanna Sellman (right) discuss the film with the audience) 

After the film there was a lively Q & A session with Prof. Vera Brunner-Sung (Department of Theatre, the Global Mobility Project) and Prof. Johanna Sellman (Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures). One of the audience members remarked that the depiction of white Europeans in the film was mostly positive, with the exception of the militant nationalists and the apathetic bureaucrats of the court system. Prof. Brunner-Sung added to the conversation by asking if the film occupied a gray area between the tropes of the White Savior and White Helper. The Other Side of Hope seems to attempt to subvert the White Savior trope by omitting gratuitous scenes of victimization and by foregrounding Khaled’s self-determination.

The film, though tragic at times, is largely whimsical and funny. The editing, use of compact spaces, and the “cleanliness of the mise en scène,” in the words of Prof. Brunner-Sung, work together to communicate complex emotional aspects of the film to the viewer without language at all. Aki Kaurismäki moves the viewer from a comedy to a tragedy to a melodrama back to a comedy. Ultimately, this conveys instability to the viewer and creates a sense of exhaustion. By highlighting this chaos, Aki Kaurismäki attempts to communicate Khaled’s experience as a migrant seeking asylum.

The film also attempts to address questions about Finland’s “myth of homogeneity,” as pointed out by Prof. Sellman, and the wave of nationalism in Finland and around the globe. The police arrive at the restaurant for a routine inspection and the employees quickly hide Khaled in the bathroom. Instead of finding Khaled and inquiring about his national origins, the police officer asks a Finnish employee to produce his identification because the employee doesn’t “look Finnish” – an ironic moment that speaks to the ways that racism works to undermine the goals of law enforcement.

The film also depicts Finland’s linguistic heterogeneity, as well as the social functions that these languages can serve. The fluidity of language choice captures the negotiation of self that many refugees must go through when seeking asylum.

Indeed, much of this film reflects the reality of migrants’ lives. This is what makes the film grim viewing, in spite of its whimsy. Khaled has been forced to flee from his home in Aleppo, Syria because of violence. He loses contact with his sister because of violence and chaos at the Turkish border. He must secretly travel to Finland in a shipping container full of coal from Gdansk, Poland due to further threats of violence, and finally, it is violence that brings him to Wikström and his subsequent employment. The streak of violence in Khaled’s life does not end when he leaves Syria. Khaled’s experience, crafted brilliantly by Kaurismäki, raises the question: what is the other side of hope?

Upcoming Artist Talk and Roundtable Discussion (RSVP by Feb. 9th) with Photographer Susan Meiselas

OSU EVENT
Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 7:00pm
“Artist Talk with Photographer Susan Meiselas”
Location:
 Wexner Center for the Arts
OSU EVENT
Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 10:15am-12:00pm
“Roundtable Discussion with Photographer Susan Meiselas”
Location:
 Thompson Library Room 165
RSVP by February 6 to globalmobility@osu.edu
Event Page
OSU EVENT
Co-sponsors: Department of Art Living Culture Initiative and Visiting Artist Program, the Global Mobility Project and the Migration Studies Working Group.

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Susan Meiselas, born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1948, received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and her MA in visual education from Harvard University. Her first major photographic essay focused on the lives of women doing striptease at New England country fairs, whom she photographed during three consecutive summers while teaching photography in New York public schools. Carnival Strippers was originally published in 1976 and a selection was installed at the Whitney Museum of Art in June 2000.

Meiselas joined Magnum Photos in 1976 and has worked as a freelance photographer since then. She is best known for her coverage of the insurrection in Nicaragua and her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America. She published her second monograph, Nicaragua, in 1981. Meiselas served as an editor and contributor to the book El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers and edited Chile from Within featuring work by photographers living under the Pinochet regime. She has co-directed two films, Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family and Pictures from a Revolution with Richard P. Rogers and Alfred Guzzetti. In 1997, she completed a six-year project curating a hundred-year photographic history of Kurdistan, integrating her own work into the book Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History and developed akaKurdistan, an online site of exchange for collective memory in 1998.

Her monograph Pandora’s Box  explores a New York S & M club, has been exhibited both at home and abroad. Encounters with the Dani reveals a sixty-year history of outsiders’ discovery and interactions with the Dani, an indigenous people of the highlands of Papua in Indonesia.

Meiselas has had one-woman exhibitions in Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, and her work is included in collections around the world. She has received the Robert Capa Gold Medal for her work in Nicaragua (1979); the Leica Award for Excellence (1982); the Engelhard Award from the Institute of Contemporary Art (1985); the Hasselblad Foundation Photography prize (1994); the Cornell Capa Infinity Award (2005) and most recently was awarded the Harvard Arts Medal (2011). In 1992, she was named a MacArthur Fellow.

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