Those familiar with director Aki Kaurismäki’s previous French film La Vie de Bohème will recognise André Wilms reprising his role as Marcel Marx in Le Havre.
Those familiar with
director Aki Kaurismäki’s previous French film La Vie de Bohème will recognise André
Wilms reprising his role as Marcel Marx in Le Havre. In the port town of Le Havre, Normandy, elderly Marcel has
retreated from the bohemian life and now quietly resides with his wife Arletty
(Kati Outinen) in a life of
simplicity, working for a pittance as a shoe shiner. Just as Arletty becomes increasingly ill and ends up in
hospital, Marcel comes across young boy refugee, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) who has arrived in Le Havre on a cargo ship. He takes pity on him and does all he
can to help him evade the ruthless Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his team of police to meet with his
mother in London.
Le Havre mirrors the themes of poverty and immigration found
in La Vie de Bohème. Kaurismäki pulls
focus on current events by tackling the issue of illegal immigration in to
Europe and attempts to back this up with various references, including a reading
from Franz Kafka literature and a
newspaper mention of Al-Qaeda.
However, the seriousness of this issue is diluted in favour of a thread
of subtle, ironic humour running through the film and an emphasis on the characters
and relationships, with some admirable performances. Marcel identifies with Idrissa as he himself experiences his
own kind of social exclusion in his lowly job. The grandfather/grandson relationship between them is sweet
to watch but if developed further, would have been significantly more moving. The
strength and warmth of working class solidarity is shown through Marcel’s
neighbours and friends as they provide a protective community of good people
who look after their own. The film
has an unyielding optimism throughout, showing the rewards of being a good and
decent person despite life’s hurdles.
Although Le Havre never reaches much of a conclusion in terms of its
powerful subject matter, it redeems itself with its focus on human life.
The film is unfortunately tainted with a performance from ageing
French rock musician, Little Bob, a sequence which is irritatingly long and
unnecessary. However in the scenes
that matter, long, contemplative shots and powerful, romantic music allow you
to linger on the most poignant moments.
There is an essence of Film Noir in Le Havre with the characters striding
around in hats and long coats and the powerful use of shadow and colour in the quaint
setting. Indeed the setting is exactly
what you imagine a little French town to be in your imagination: cobbled streets, cosy bars and
overflowing with Gallic charm.
Le Havre does not really suggest a solution to a growing
social concern and does verge on the melodramatic but ultimately it is a
parable with a lot of heart.