In delightfully ironic fashion Aki Kaurismäki, Finnish director and purveyor of the cynically comical, arrives with a French set film that just might be the most heart warming movie of the year. Le Havre tells the story of Marcel Marx (André Wilms), an ex-bohemian artist turned shoeshiner who lacks cynicism as much as he lacks earning potential – that is to say he lacks both a great deal.
When Marcel’s devoted wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) becomes seriously ill, Marcel is none the wiser. On Arletty’s request the doctors tell Marcel that there is nothing to worry about, so he continues his life in a state of boyish innocence. Marcel’s routine consists of earning nothing all day shoe-shining, stealing food from local shops and spending any money he can find at the local pub.
One day Marcel encounters a young African boy called Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), an illegal immigrant. When Marcel realises the authorities are hunting for the boy he decides to help him, since his house is otherwise empty (his trusty dog Laïka aside). Suddenly Marcel switches gear from silly old fool to quick witted protector of innocence, as he locates Idrissa’s family in London, by fooling the authorities with the claim of being “the family albino”.
And so Kaurismäki’s ability to create deadpan hilarity ensues, but his expert storytelling has us rooting for Idrissa’s cause as well. The film is constructed simply, but brilliantly with Kaurismäki’s eagle eye for comic dramatisation captured by simple but effective camera setups. Traditional to Kaurismäki the style of Le Havre recalls directors including Jean-Pierre Melville and Yasujiro Ozu, whose different but distinct styles meld perfectly into arty-comic-noir.
The characters in Le Havre feels like they are of another, more innocent time. This is emphasised by Kaurismäki’s use of noir archetypes and Marcel Marx himself, who seems to live in the 1960’s despite existing in the modern world. The contemporary world is amusingly evoked by police squads in excessive gear, cold hearted shoe shop owners and a truthfully absurd newspaper headline connecting the innocent but foreign Idrissa with terrorism.
Throughout Le Havre Kaurismäki’s wit is cynical and sharp, but his love for his characters affords the film a cheerful tone. In fact the film is joyous, particularly when Marcel Marx stages a concert by French rock band Little Bob, to raise funds for Idrissa’s travels. Despite Little Bob being ancient rockers there is a youthful air to them and this air pervades the film.
Kaurismäki’s latest film is not only unashamedly nostalgic, but it is interested in miracles too. It pokes fun at the modern world where doom and gloom takes precedence over hope and dreams. Le Havre tells us not to take life so seriously and for the duration of this film you can be damned sure that you wont.