A poker-playing restaurateur and former traveling salesman befriends a group of refugees newly arrived to Finland.A poker-playing restaurateur and former traveling salesman befriends a group of refugees newly arrived to Finland.A poker-playing restaurateur and former traveling salesman befriends a group of refugees newly arrived to Finland.
Our first main protagonist Khaled is seeking asylum in Finland. From the outside, it looks like a very clean process as far as shown to us. The idle waiting time related to the asylum application procedure does hide the rough edges we often read about, namely that asylum seekers among themselves are making trouble when seeing others with a different religion or other political position, or even worse when seeing GLBT behavior that they are not prepared to allow. Intolerance can be very problematic here, given that the people are packed together, while at the same time being bored to death, doomed to wait, unable to do anything useful. Due to their numbers and possible variations in asylum seekers, it is a sheer impossible task to sort and separate them in such a way that such troubles are prevented. In this movie, however, the asylum seekers are living harmoniously together, and help each other where they can without seeking favors in return. What does Finland do what we apparently are doing wrong in The Netherlands??
Our second main protagonist Wikström follows a completely different path. On a random morning, he leaves his wedding ring and house keys with his wife, who is clearly alcohol addicted. He sells his stock but keeps the storage space (will become unexpectedly useful later). What also proves useful is his poker face, and he succeeds in multiplying his amount of cash considerably, to the extent that he can buy a restaurant including staff. The capabilities of the restaurant staff that he takes over with the rest of the inventory and furniture, do not look very promising from the outset, but he keeps them nevertheless.
For the first 30 minutes or so, the stories of above two main protagonists run their completely separate course. We see them in turns, both paths clearly delineated, simply by having other people and another decor visible. After his asylum request being denied, and just before being transported to a plane to be sent back, Khaled escapes and starts an uncertain life on the street. He is found sleeping between the trashcans by fresh restaurateur Wikström, from which moment on their lives become mingled.
The restaurant business does not go as well as may be hoped. Given the quality of the staff that he inherited when buying the restaurant, it can be no surprise from the first day on. For example, when someone orders sardines from the menu, that seems to mean that he receives a half opened can. More humor follows later on when they try out different restaurant types, e.g. sushi being prepared out of a cooking book. Other experiments also hardly succeed. A surprise inspection is handled in a way not exactly by-the-book but they pass. These humoristic scenes are intermixed with the more serious main line of the story.
The story includes a series of lucky strikes and happy coincidences that is overwhelming, bordering on statistically impossible. But otherwise there would have been no story to tell, so who am I to complain. The musical fragments we witnessed, most in cafés or restaurants, even one where Khaled plays the sitar (is that the proper name?), albeit not relevant to the story itself, are included (I think) as ornamentation or as local folklore, or simply happened to be available and deemed a waste when left out.
All in all, this movie is much better than what the average synopsis promises. On the other hand, it is not easy to describe what it is exactly that makes the movie attractive. The serious undertone cannot be overlooked, given the hostilities encountered by Khaled, and the motivation for the denial of his asylum request is also a farce, based on wrong facts that we see refuted on TV, and gives Finland a bad name. However, the parallel story with Wikström and his restaurant takes good care of ample relief from the heavy material. I usually lower my expectations when a book or movie builds on two or more parallel story lines, by assuming that none of the stories could offer sufficient material to stand on its own feet, but this time my prejudice proved unjustified. The way both stories were mixed without disturbing the logical flow of events, may be one of the reasons this movie was awarded by the International Jury of the Berlinale 2017.
- Mar 3, 2017