KaurismÃ¤ki’s newest film, Le Havre, is somewhat of an oddball. It’s quirky, although not to the extremes of a Wes Anderson film, and yet it’s filled with masses of melodrama, classical 1950s’ lighting, a pastel colour palette and even the odd baffling indulgence. Le Havre is no doubt, a love letter to KaurismÃ¤ki’s La Nouvelle Vague/French New Wave heroes, but will anyone other than corpses or scholars appreciate it?
Set in the titular French harbour city, Le Havre, the film sees shoeshiner, Marcel Marx (AndrÃ© Wilms), coming to the aid of young, African refugee, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), who is trying to reach London to be with his mother, however, those pesky police have other plans. So, Marcel and the small working-class community band together to protect the boy, forming a mini-resistance. But will their plan succeed?
Apart from Marcel and Idrissa’s narrative path, there is another significant story at work here, involving Marcel’s wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen). Arletty loves her husband dearly, but she does everything for him -including shining his shoes -so when she’s (almost certainly) diagnosed with bowel cancer, she seeks to protect her husband, to shield him from the truth of her sudden ailment, instead of telling him.
Arletty alludes to her (surely) imminent demise -and class status -when her doctor assures her, miracles do happen, and she replies, “not in my neighbourhood”. Anyway, the sickness plot device also has another use here, and that’s to get rid of the wife, while the man-child goes off on another adventure. But as the film reaches towards its conclusion, these two narratives intertwine. The key being redemption; ie does Marcel’s involvement with Idrissa’s plight to evade the police ensure the miraculous recovery of his wife?
It’s decided that the best way to get Idrissa to London, is by smuggling him into international waters, where he can be transported to a British ship and hopefully Idrissa will eventually be reunited with his mother. However, this costs serious ‘deniros’ to achieve, and so Marcel, his baker, the greengrocer, and fellow shoeshiner, Chang, all work together to raise the necessary capital. They decide to do this by arranging a gig, with local musician/singer, Little Bob, however, Little Bob is having marital strife and he’ll only agree to sing, if Marcel can convince his wife to take him back -and needless to say, he does.
If there was one sequence which I felt dragged, then it was the disco scene with Little Bob. It’s not a terrible sequence (and by a long a shot), but it should have been briefer. Also, I never thought I’d see Gwildor in a film outside of Dolph Lundgren’s 1987 ‘masterpiece’, Masters of The Universe, but there we go -trust a Finnish filmmaker! The other criticism I would raise, concerns Idrissa, he’s almost certainly the ‘idealistic immigrant’; he’s intelligent, considerate, respectful and even noble -although not quite the ‘noble black man’ clichÃ©, but close. Heck, maybe I’m being a little overly cynical here, but it was certainly noticeable, however, that is juxtaposed by the authoritarian police force, which are all MP5 and truncheon toting -so it works, despite my misgivings.
As I’ve said, the film has obvious allusions to KaurismÃ¤ki’s heroes and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the film’s opening sequence, where New Wave actor Jean-Pierre LÃ©aud makes a brief appearance as a police informer. However, I also noticed a Jef Costello (Alain Delon) look-a-like (from Le SamouraÃ¯), frequently popping up, which is surely another reference to one of KaurismÃ¤ki’s heroes.
Le Havre is a surprisingly schmaltzy film, with dubious resurrections and a wish-fulfilment conclusion, but with that said, it is KaurismÃ¤ki’s most enjoyable film in years. And, at the centre of the film is a rare beauty, which is only matched by the kindness and warmth of it characters. It is quite simply, a pleasure for all.