Title: Le Havre
Country: Finland, France, Germany
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Aki Kaurismäki
Cinematography: Timo Salminen
Quoc Dung Nguyen
Le Havre, the port city of France, is given a retro-chic luster by Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki, LE HAVRE is a straight-faced parable singing the praise of altruistic deeds, Marcel Marx (Wilms) is an elderly shoeshiner, leads a quiet life with his wife Arletty (Outinen), and their dog Laika, then one day, Arletty falls gravely ill, and is taken into hospital but she prefers not to let on the severity of her condition (malignant tumor) to Marcel.
During the same time, a teenage illegal immigrant from Africa is on the lam, whom Marcel alights on near the waterway, out of goodwill, Marcel leaves him food and some money, and before soon, the boy, whose name is Idrissa (Miguel), ends up in Marcel’s humble abode and turns out to be rather amenable and sensible. Apparently from the very start, Marcel is sympathetic toward’s Idrissa’s fix, so he takes it on himself to help the latter reach London, where he can be reunited with his mother. This requires some footwork, Marcel travels to Calais and meets Idrissa’s grandfather (U’kset) who is interned inside a refugee facility, from their conversation Marcel knows Idrissa’s father has died in transit, and acquired the address of his mother in London. Back to Le Havre, he organizes a come-back concert for the local rock star Little Bob in order to raise enough money for Idrissa’s stowaway fee, but they must act rapidly because a diligent local detective Monet (Darroussin), starts to sniff around Marcel’s business, and will he let the boy off the hook when the crunch comes?
LE HAVRE is permeated with Kaurismäki’s stock-in-trade, the quaintly appealing reductive settings underlined by his muted chromatic choices, an equable cinematographic movement pays solemn attention to the particulars of its sparse mise-en-scène; the deadpan acting modality (somehow quite poignant thanks to his usual players), not-mincing-words dialogue, and his never-diminishing rock n’ roll frame-of-mind, captured with utter elation by Little Bob aka. Roberto Piazza’s age-defying live singing. All the composites are there, but what makes LE HAVRE a more cogent and touching pièce-de-résistance than his other works, say the bleakly postured LIGHTS IN THE DUSK (2006), lies in Kaurismäki’s sacred faith of compassion and philanthropy that so intrinsic to a living human being, in particular a sense of communal solidarity among the denizens, formed almost overnight when words of Marcel’s action filters through the close-knitted neighborhood, whether the matter in question is about immigrant or not, Kaurismäki’s fable rams home that good deeds always meet with a worthwhile reward, however improbable or even “miraculous” as in this film, and it is not at all cutesy or didactic, on the contrary, it is a magnificent twist and it is so life-affirming and pleasurable.
French actor André Wilms impresses with his straight-up good guy image, yet he is not above fibbing and hobnobbing when he sees fit, but not one minute he relinquishes his dignity, integrity and optimism; equally memorable is Jean-Pierre Darroussin’s outwardly surly detective, surprisingly holds together his about-face without too much of affectation.
One might contend that the story is seen through a pair of rose-glassed spectacles, and could be seized upon as a blunt propaganda towards the topical immigrant policies, but a film’s greatness indeed should be appraised by its own virtue sans spatiotemporal perimeters, thus, for my money, LE HAVRE is a charismatic bread of life reinforcing our faith in human nature (which is ever so imperative at present), meanwhile not sacrificing its distinct artistic flair and aesthetic philosophy.
referential points: Kaurismäki’s THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (2002, 7.7/10), LIGHTS IN THE DUSK (2006, 5.2/10).