Le Havre: Criterion Collection
August 9, 2012
Aki Kaurismaki is arguably Finland’s most famous export – a filmmaker that favors understated stories of basic human decency, usually involving the working class. His films also celebrate life and the right to live it however one wants. His latest effort is Le Havre (2011), which sees him tackle a more overtly political issue – immigration. All across Europe countries are grappling with it and Kaurismaki offers his own utopian take that all begins with one man’s selfless act.
The film opens with a sublime comedic sequence as a man stops to have his shoes shined. As soon as he’s done, the man leaves only to be shot and killed seconds later. A bystander says, “Pool devil,” to which the shoeshiner replies, “Luckily he had time to pay.” Marcel Marx (Wilms) is an old shoeshiner still trying to eke out an existence in an increasingly unforgiving world. His wife Arletty (Outinen) is kind and tolerant of her husband’s meager earnings while also suffering from a terminal illness. They lead a modest existence and get by the best they can, just like the rest of us.
They live in the French harbor city of Le Havre in Normandy, which is experiencing problems with illegal immigration. A storage bin occupied by African refugees is discovered and one of them – a boy named Idrissa (Miguel) – makes a break for it. He ends up crossing paths with Marcel and follows him home one night, hiding out in the shed adjacent to the house. Idrissa is trying to get to London and Marcel takes him in, hiding him from the police despite his meager means.
Andre Wilms brings a deadpan dignity to his role as an aging bohemian with a humane streak. This empathy extends to his neighbors – the lady that runs the bakery and gives him bread for free, and the local grocer who gives Marcel soon-to-expire goods. It is their simple acts of kindness that give one hope for humanity. Much like Wilms, Blondin Miguel delivers a minimalist performance devoid of the grand gestures and overacting that plagues a lot of Hollywood fare. Idrissa doesn’t say much but we get an idea of how he feels from his expressive eyes. He’s not an angry young boy but rather a very sensitive one who has seen too much. Miguel and Wilms make for an interesting team, playing well off each other.
While Le Havre is filled with empathy, it refuses to devolve into sappy sentimentality. Marcel and Arletty care for each other but Kaurismaki refuses to lay it on thick. He is not presenting the world as it is but how he would like it to be. In this respect, he has created an unabashed fairy tale. He believes in the basic decency of the local community – Marcel’s neighbors refuse to rat him out to the local police and even come to the hospital to visit his ailing wife. They put others’ plights ahead of their own – something you don’t often see depicted in film and certainly not in such a matter-of-fact way.
The first disc includes a theatrical trailer.
The second disc starts off with “Le Havre at Cannes,” which includes a 45-minute press conference with some of the cast and crew. Kaurismaki starts things off with a comical bit about smoking while his trademark deadpan humor is in fine form. Kaurismaki and the cast are then interviewed for French television. The director talks about why he picked the city while Wilms talks about working with Kaurismaki.
Actor Andre Wilms talks about he first met Kaurismaki and what it was like to work with him. He also talks about learning to polish shoes and his goal to deliver a performance somewhere between that of Robert Mitchum and Buster Keaton.
There is also an interview with actress Kati Outinen from a 2011 Finnish T.V. program. She talks about her career and working with Kaurismaki on several films together. She also talks about the challenge of learning French for Le Havre. She comes across as very smart and engaging who speaks eloquently about her work.
Finally, there is performance footage of Little Bob who plays old school rockabilly in the film.