Take a topical issue: immigrant refugees in France; add Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's tender and charming embrace—and you have a film that quickens the pulse and gladdens the heart. Unlike Welcome, Philippe Lioret's award-winning, gritty and ironic take on the subject of immigrants trying to cross the Channel to London's promised land, Le Havre takes a different tack, employing deadpan humor to inspire a tidal wave of compassion. The result blew away hearts and minds at the Cannes Film Festival, seducing hardened scribes with its charm and sensibility. With authentic performances from many of the director's regular coterie of actors, it lifts the spirits. With careful nurturing Le Havre (named after the Normandy port where it takes place) could be a minor sleeper hit.
André Wilms plays Marcel Marx, an elderly shoe shiner with a colorful past in Bohemian Paris who earns a living working on the streets of the port. He witnesses an illegal immigrant boy from Gabon escape from the police and commits himself to giving the boy refuge and help. Marcel hides him in the small house he shares with his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) and his dog Laïka. Jean-Pierre Darroussin (a top league French actor also to be seen in Robert Guédiguian's Cannes Competition entry The Snows of Kilimanjaro) gives life to the tough police inspector who's trying to track down the boy. The shoe shiner has to contend with locals who seem happy, if not enthusiastic, to denounce the Good Samaritan in their midst.
Kaurismäki's essays about the fringes of Finnish society have bolstered his international credentials. Though similarly social-issue driven, this film avoids backsliding into preachiness and succeeds in coming to grips with the problems of the dispossessed in ways more relevant than work by other directors confronting similar issues. He shoots the film as if on a studio back-lot. The artifice is distancing and creates a unique emotional engagement with the characters and their circumstances. Kaurismäki does not attempt to furnish solutions or to take sides but proves that, à la Frank Capra, miracles can happen in the most unexpected quarters.
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Cast: André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Quoc-Dung Nguyen
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Aki Kaurismäki
Genre: Comedy/drama; Finnish- and French-langauge, subtitled
Running time: 93 min.
Release date: Unset