Le Havre Blu-ray
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Directed by Aki Kaurismaki
Produced in 2011
Main Language - French with English subtitles
The friendship between a man and an illegal child immigrant is at the heart of this heartfelt tribute to 1930s French films. It's crammed with incidental pleasures, writes Michael Brooke.
Aki Kaurismäki's second French-language film after 1992's La Vie de Bohème (prior knowledge of which is not required, though there are a couple of delectable in-jokes for fans) is his most heartfelt tribute to one of his favourite periods of cinema history, the great if undeservedly neglected 'Popular Front' films of the mid to late 1930s in which Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné and Jean Grémillon brought an intensely poetic sensibility to ostensibly realistic films about the downtrodden, cruelly exploited masses.
Naturally, Kaurismäki does this too in this deceptively simple tale of Le Havre-based shoeshiner Marcel Marx (André Wilms), whose almost childlike dependence on his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) is threatened by her being diagnosed with what seems to be terminal cancer - of course, since she's a Kaurismäki heroine, she treats the news as stoically as she would a minor kitchen mishap. At the same time, Marcel accidentally runs into Idrissa, a Gabonese boy wanted by the police (represented by Jean-Pierre Darroussin's marvellously hangdog Inspector Monet) for illegally entering the country, forcing Marcel to choose between what is legally and morally right.
Working with his regular production team, notably veteran cinematographer Timo Salminen, Kaurismäki transforms a normally rather drab French harbour town into a colourful, sun-drenched French-speaking outpost of what Outinen called 'Akiland', a universe peculiar to this endlessly idiosyncratic filmmaker that's instantly recognisable only a few seconds after arrival - reacting to a client being whacked by mafiosi immediately after getting his shoes shined, Marcel looks on the bright side: at least he had time to pay.
And as ever with Kaurismäki, the film is crammed with incidental pleasures and absurd details: a pineapple, a sprig of cherry blossom, a Jean-Pierre Léaud cameo, a concert by local rock legend Little Bob and a screen credit for Kaurismäki's own dog Laika (an inveterate scene-stealer) make particularly memorable contributions.
If Kaurismäki's melodramatic approach to this material is undoubtedly and unashamedly old-fashioned (his other acknowledged models are Douglas Sirk and Yasujiro Ozu), his call for working-class solidarity in the face of official callousness could hardly be more vital today.
Michael Brooke on 19th June 2012
Author of 135 reviews
A warm-hearted, deadpan comedy from Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, Le Havre depicts the friendship between an illegal child immigrant and an elderly Frenchman in a country that exists somewhere between the reality of contemporary France and the classic cinema of Marcel Carné.
Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) is an ageing shoe-shiner living in the French port city of Le Havre with his beloved wife Arletty (Kati Outinen). When Arletty becomes ill and is taken into hospital, Marcel takes in 8 year-old Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), an illegal immigrant boy from Africa who is trying to get to his mother in London. Marcel comes under the scrutiny of local police inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), but remains determined to help reunite Idrissa with his family.
Publisher: Artificial Eye
Length: 93 mins
Cat No: ART041BD
Format: Blu-ray Colour
- Interview with actors André Wilms and Jean-Pierre Darroussin
- Little Bob Music Video
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