Le Havre (2011)

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Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki’s charming film is an enjoyable comedy drama set in the titular French port city. The director has said that he intends to make a trilogy of movies based upon the inhabitants of European port cities and he has certainly gotten off to a solid start with this initial offering.

The plot follows a former bohemian and retired author called Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) who lives out a simple and quaint existence shining shoes on the city’s streets. Marcel lives in a close-knit community of caring neighbours who may not possess a great deal in terms of wealth but more than make up for it in good will. He also has a seriously ill wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen), who has been hospitalised and has asked her doctor to hide the severity of her illness from her doting husband. Meanwhile Marcel takes pity on an escaped Gabonese refugee called Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) who is being chased by the local authorities. After sheltering the boy and recruiting his local friends to help, Marcel sets out to get the boy to London where he can be reunited with his mother. The presence of the ominous Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) looks set to put a spanner in the works however as he and Marcel seem to engage on a softly spoken battle of wits over the boy’s future.

Kaurismaki’s movie is in essence a modern day Capra-esque feel-good movie which seeks to blot out the harsh reality of modern life and instead focus on a sense of shared humanity and the goodness one can find in the generosity of strangers. Marcel has no real reason to help Idrissa, just as his neighbours have no real reason to do their part as well. Their collective actions are all intended as a worthwhile exercise in reaffirming ones faith in humanity.

There is some deadpan humour scattered throughout and the tone is always fairly light, even surprisingly during Arletty’s struggles at the hospital, yet the film still manages to tug at the heartstrings as the drama unfolds. Despite it having a Finnish director, the film has a distinctly French feel throughout. The film’s setting is like a timeless depiction of a typical French port town, with the boulangeries and wine bars settled in amidst rustic buildings and weather-beaten streets. There are elements of great French directors sprinkled throughout with dashes of the likes of Jacques Tati and Jean-Pierre Melville in there and even character names such as Arletty (a famous French actress and singer) and Marcel (Marceau) reference back to the history of French Cinema.

The two central performances by Andre Wilms as Marcel and Jean-Pierre Darroussin as Monet really stand out as the two of them exude a quiet dignity and an unflappable Gaelic charm. One of them infinitely caring and compassionate, the other is slowly and methodically seeking to prove the other’s guilt, but both showing a clear mutual respect for their rival.

It’s not a film which will linger long in the memory, it’s in essence a very simple fairy-tale story so don’t expect any commentary on the issue of immigration in French society here. For its 90 minute run time however, Le Havre is a sweet and engrossing movie which is full of heart and can’t help but raise a smile.

Le Havre is out on DVD & blu-ray on 6th August 2012.

Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Writer: Aki Kaurismäki
Stars: André Wilms, Blondin Miguel, Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Runtime: 93 min
Country: Finland, France, Germany

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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