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Le Havre

Le Havre

Released 6 April 2012
Director Aki Kaurismaki

André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Quoc-Dung Nguyen, Laika
Writer(s) Aki Kaurismaki
Producer(s) Aki Kaurismaki
Origin Finland, France, Germany
Running Time 93 minutes
Genre Comedy, drama
Rating PG

Feast for thought.

In 1992, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki transplanted to Paris where he directed La Vie de Bohème – a story of impoverished, failed artists on the cusp of society. Twenty years later, Kaurismaki has returned to France with Le Havre; once again placing the spotlight upon the lives of the impoverished and the dispossessed.

The hero this time around is a Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) a middle aged man seemingly left behind by society, struggling to make a living shining shoes outside the train stations and shops of Le Havre. Both the setting and the style of direction give the impression that this film could easily have taken place in the 1960s, but the story quickly arrives in a topical present. Police seize upon a container full of African refugees which has been sitting in the port for two weeks, stranded by an “error in the computer”. When the refugees are impounded into a prison-like holding facility, a single boy (Blondin Miguel) escapes. He finds himself on the run, and is branded a fugitive and a terrorist by a hostile media. Kaurismaki’s politics may be clear, but they never get in the way of the story. At its heart the tale is one of two outsiders in society, and how their friendship takes both of them on a totally unlikely journey.

The classical cinematography draws on plenty of melodramatic tropes, but never submits to schmaltzy emotion. The plot is at times unashamedly light-hearted, at others bleak and hopeless, but Kaurismaki proves his worth as a master-storyteller by bringing the film together in such a way that one scene flows seamlessly into another. The strong central performances from Wilms and Miguel lend genuine heart to their unlikely friendship, and Jean-Pierre Darroussin also scores well as the black hat wearing detective who reveals himself to be far more than a cardboard cut-out bad guy.

Le Havre proved a big hit a Cannes, earning a nomination for the Palme d’Or, and it is easy to see why. Kaurismaki has weaved a brilliant blend of homage to cinematic tradition and biting social commentary, and even more crucially has crafted a genuinely engaging story. Every aspect of Le Havre won’t appeal to every audience, but there is something in this gem of a film for everybody to take away.

- Bernard O’Rourke