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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Director Aki Kaurismaki is one of Finland’s national treasures; he makes films about down-and-out people. They have often hit rock bottom and are so downtrodden they don’t know it. Then something happens and they find reserves, or love, or a small victory, or death.
Khaled (Sherwan Haji) emerges from a pile of coal on a ship in Helsinki harbour and asks for political asylum. At the same time, middle-aged Waldemar (Sakari Kuosmanen) abandons his marriage, sells his wholesale shirt business and buys a run-down restaurant, with three run-down staff. Khaled eventually washes up there when he runs away from the refugee centre. He has lost his sister Miriam (Niroz Haji) in the flight from Syria. Mazdak (Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon), an Iraqi refugee, tries to find her.
Kaurismaki does not lie about human weakness and cruelty. There is a struggle between good and evil at the heart of all his films, although this one takes a less obvious route with evil. Everyone Khaled meets in the refugee centre is kind to him; when he escapes several people help him, but not all. There are bad men out there. Most of the characters face a daily question: to be kind or unkind. Kaurismaki builds a heroic narrative around that idea, when the people in the restaurant are called upon to act.
So what makes Kaurismaki so different? He does have an extraordinary depth of love for the medium to draw on, but his films are models of simplicity. He brings a strong intelligence to the writing, a weary sense of the world’s harshness. His feeling for comedy is light and always unpredictable, but he is driven by compassion. You always know that his heroes are going to surprise us at some point, discovering their own power for action.