Sunday, February 12, 2012

Movie Review: Le Havre

Le Havre *** ½
Directed by: Aki Kaurismäki.
Written by: Aki Kaurismäki.
Starring: André Wilms (Marcel Marx), Kati Outinen (Arletty), Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Monet), londin Miguel (Idrissa), Elina Salo (Claire), Evelyne Didi (Yvette), Quoc Dung Nguyen (Chang), François Monnié (Epicier), Little Bob (Himself), Pierre Étaix (Docteur Becker), Jean-Pierre Léaud (Le dénonciateur), Vincent Lebodo (Francis), Umban U'kset (Mahamat Saleh).

Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre is essentially a modern day fairy tale. Life doesn’t work like it does in this film – certainly not for poor, illegal African immigrants caught in France on their way to England – but don’t we all wish it would? It is an inspiring film, where really only one character is all that bad, and everyone else pulls together to do something for the greater good. No, life doesn’t work like this, but no, I didn’t really care while watching Le Havre. I was simply having too much fun.

Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) is a failed artist who works in the small French coastal town of Le Havre shining shoes. He has been married for a long time to Arletty (Kati Outtinen), who stays at home and waits from him to come home and give her the money he earned that day to put it in a little shoe box for later use. In the paper he sees the story of a group of illegal African refugees who were caught in a shipping container (who miraculously despite being forgotten there for weeks on end, all survive) and the one young boy who escaped and is on the run (the paper wonders if he’s armed and dangerous or has possible connections to Al Qaeda). But Marcel meets the poor boy hiding under a pier, and takes him home. By this point, Arletty has been taken to the hospital, and told she has incurable cancer – although she lies to Marcel about the extent of her illness. Through the course of the movie, Marcel will seek help from all of his friends and neighbors – none of whom doubt the innocence of the boy. He’s just trying to get to London and his mother. Even the police inspector assigned to the case (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) doesn’t much care about catching the boy – he knows Marcel has him, but tells him that he investigates crimes, not immigration issues.

Many of Aki Kaurismaki’s films have been much darker than Le Havre, although they almost all share this films deadpan comic tone. His work has often been compared to American indie maverick Jim Jarmursch, and the similarities between the two filmmaker’s styles is clear. I’m sure that Jarmursch loved the performance of Little Bob in this film, and this is exactly the type of strange musical act that he would love – a one of a kind musical act, that is completely strange, but mesmerizing in its own way.
Kaurismaki’s latest film is much more hopeful than any of his other films that I have seen. It ends with not just one miracle ending, but two, as he fully embraces the fairy tale aspect of his story, And yet, this is still clearly a Kaurismaki film – his films are often about desperate losers in impossible situations, and so too is this film. Andre Wilms does an excellent job in the lead role, but he is essentially a Kaurismaki hero – a man whose dreams have been crushed, who lives now a desperate existence, And yet, while most Kaurismaki heroes fail at their dreams, this is a man who sacrifices everything, and actually succeeds. Perhaps this is a sign that Kaurismaki is softening after nearly 30 years of making films, or perhaps he just wanted to see his lovable losers finally succeed for once. Either way, this is one of his best films.

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