Le Havre, 2011.
Written and Directed by Aki Kaurismäki.
Starring André Wilms, Blondin Miguel, Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Blondin Miguel.
In the quiet city of Le Havre, optimistic old man Marcel and his misfit friends unite to protect young African immigrant Idrissa from deportation.
The sleepy Normandy city of the title is the backdrop to Le Havre, a gentle comedy with a dose of social commentary.
Aging shoe shiner Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) discovers a young African boy whilst eating lunch in the city docks. The boy in question, Idrissa (played by excellent newcomer Blondin Miguel), has recently arrived in a ship’s container and managed to escape as the authorities rounded up his family. Marcel, naturally, decides to take him in and hide him from a detective on the trail. At the same time though, Marcel’s doting wife is taken into hospital, now Marcel must care of both himself and Idrissa… and his loveable dog Laika.
When you think about France’s relationship with illegal immigration you’re likely to think of right wing politics and images of camps being torn down. But Le Havre tackles the subject in a softly warming way with a liberal bias. The concern is a child’s welfare, and the quest to reunite him with his mother in London. This, it is suggested, is more important that bureaucracy and policy but can only be achieved by circumventing the authorities. Marcel is an outcast, but he and his misfit friends are able to look out for Idrissa better than anyone else. Through cunning and social cohesion they are able to outsmart the caricatured, Clouseau-like detective in pursuit.
Le Havre’s trailer attempts to sell the film as silly and almost screwball-like, quite likely intending to capitalise on the success of last year’s relative-hit French comedy Potiche. But actually, it’s quite different to that film. Le Havre is slow and relaxed and more subtly funny. It’s wrapped up in a specific place, with the city of Le Havre beautifully shot and full of character. It’s an almost timeless place, with the issues and time period obviously contemporary but much of the décor, costumes, and society characteristics more reminiscent of the 1970s or 1980s. The only misstep actually is a specific throwback to the seventies, as apparent French blues-rock star of the era Little Bob performs a musical number at a charity concert. I’m sure it works well for the home crowd, but internationally all we see is a strange looking old man singing badly.
Overall, Le Havre is quite sweet and charming all round really, managing to wrap up social critique into an enjoyable little film. It is a little film though – it’s not going to pop up on any critics’ end of year lists of art-house success stories. The reason for that being it doesn’t do quite enough in either the social commentary or comedy areas. It makes a point, but doesn’t cause any controversy, and it is funny, but not laugh-out-loud so. It’s hard to fault massively though as it is an enjoyable watch – which is why it rates slightly higher as a ‘movie’ than a ‘film’. If you’re after a warm comedy about a group of misfits you can’t really go wrong. Le Havre presents an act of heroism amongst the ordinary and outcast in a delightfully uplifting way.
Le Havre is available now on Curzon on Demand and is showing in selected cinemas.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film *** / Movie ****
Arnold Stone blogs at spaceshipbroken.com and can also be found on Twitter.