Written and Directed by: Aki Kaurismäki
Starring: André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Quoc Dung Nguyen, Blondin Miguel and Jean-Pierre Darroussin
LE HAVRE – Finland’s submission for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film by filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki – had a very limited release last year, but landed on quite a few critics’ top ten lists. Honestly, had I seen this in 2011, I too would have included it on my list. It’s a beautifully charming and endearing piece that successfully blends its political message with sophisticated wit and humor. Even though it has an elderly protagonist, the film as a whole has a certain youthful spirit – joie de vivre if you will – that makes this a must see for film lovers of all ages.
LE HAVRE is named after the relatively quiet industrial port city in France where our tale is set. It’s a somewhat idyllic community where the townsfolk may not have a lot of money, but are rich in character. Marcel Marx (André Wilms) is a loveable, acerbic shoe-shiner who lives in a tiny home with his doting wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) and dog Laika, both of whom he adores. Things are pretty much the same day in and day out. That is until he meet-cutes Idissa (Blondin Miguel), a young African refugee boy by the docks. Reminding him of his youthful bohemian spirit, Marcel agrees to help Idissa get out of the country as best he can. With the the unwavering support and pooled confidence of his community, Marcel stands up to Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and the other officers who’ve been persistently pursuing the boy for deportation.
While the film may be a little slow for some viewers, it takes its brisk 93 minute running time to foster sweet sentiment and a genuine message. It’s a beautiful story whose themes echo the political ideals in the motto of the French Republic: Liberty, equality, and fraternity. However, don’t let the underlying politics scare you away from seeing this gem, as they’re but a backdrop for its humor, poignancy, and humanity. The mood feels reminiscent of the French New Wave movement of the 1960’s. If Jean-Pierre Melville and Jacques Tati magically mingled with Wes Anderson’s deadpan style, you’d have LE HAVRE!
Even though it’s set in a drab location, there’s a lot that radiates. Outside Kaurismäki’s phenomenal direction, Wilms, Miguel, and Outinen turn in fantastic performances. Despite the depressing situations that take place, the affable actors keep the story hopeful, light, and upbeat. Editor Timo Linnsalo’s deliberate cuts add to the overall dark humor of the piece. And cinematographer Timo Salminen’s washed out palette makes this film feel as if it’s from another time while also being incredibly modern – even timeless.