Cinema Review: Le Havre


DIR/WRI/PRO: Aki Kaurismäki • DOP: Timo Salminen • ED: Timo Linnasalo • Cast: André Wilms, Blondin Miguel, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Kati Outinen

What sort of film is Le Havre? Le Havre is the sort of film where the dog gets its name listed in the opening credits amongst the rest of the cast. That it is to say; it is sweet, sentimental, witty and oh-so-very nice.

The second French film directed by Finnish master Aki Kaurismäki – a periodically prolific filmmaker who has never become well known outside of cinephile circles – Le Havre sees him bring his minimalist, humanist storytelling to the famous Normandy port city.

Kaurismäki regular André Wilms plays Marcel Marx, a poor but contented older man, making a living as a shoeshiner. He has abandoned his bohemian past in order to look after his loving wife Arletty, who Marcel is all too aware is too good for him. When she takes ill and is hospitalised, Marcel finds the loneliness difficult to deal with.

But a mutual saviour comes in the form of Idrissa, a young illegal immigrant from Africa, desperate to get to his mother in London. He needs a place to hide from the police, including determined but honest cop Monet, while Marcel needs company and someone to provide for. And so Marcel goes about trying to help smuggle Idrissa across the English Channel, with the help of the assorted eccentrics he calls friends.

Wilms gives a heartfelt performance as Marcel, portraying a man who will keep going at whatever pace is necessary until the job gets done. His scenes with Kati Outinen, who portrays his wife Arletty, are sweet but tinged with sorrow for a life they never got to live. Paired with young actor Blondin Miguel, he plays the perfect foster father, teaching Idrissa the tricks of his trade, while passing on pearls of sentiment-free wisdom.

Matched with the film’s sweetness is its wit. Simple and to the point, Kaurismäki does not linger on a comic aside and lets the humour flow naturally. One scene, in which Marcel blags his way into a refugee camp, features some of the most finely honed comedy you will come across this year.

Kaurismäki frames his scenes with his traditional steady shots, composing every image without clutter. As opposed to the foggy black and white of the other great Le Havre-set film, Marcel Carné’s 1938 proto-noir Le Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows), Kaurismäki lights every daytime scene with an airy grey, as if the sun is perpetually covered by the lightest but most insistent of clouds. It fills the city with a strange beauty that contrasts its old brown/grey streets with the metallic rusty reds and blues of dockside shipping containers.

Fans of Kaurismäki will recognise Le Havre as one of his best, and most typical, films, while newcomers should be able to enjoy its simple drama and inherent sweetness. They may however be turned off by a faint hint of magical realism that piques near the film’s end, and question why Kaurismäki chose to include a lengthy rock concert sequence – fans will know that’s just his thing that he does.

Le Havre is a light-hearted gem of a film that cares deeply for its characters; from its heroes, to its villain, to the dog.

David Neary

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Le Havre  is released on 6th April 2012

Le Havre – Official Website



JDIFF 2012: Le Havre

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012

First Look:

Le Havre

Sunday, 19th February, 8.30pm, Light House

Aki Kaurismäki Le Havre is a pure gem; a fine tale of immigrants, love and simplicity. The Finnish director brings a mood of bone-dry humour to proceedings with jokes you’re not sure weather to laugh or cry at. Le Havre is set in the most popolous province in the Haute-Normandie region in the North of France and is the story of Marcel Marx (Andrè Wilms), once writer and bohémien, in his sixties, a refugee from Paris to Le Havre, where he leads a poor but happy life -divided between his work as a proud shoeshiner, drinks at the bar, and the love of his wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen). The existence of Marcel changes after two unexpected events: his wife’s illness illness and an encounter with a boy from Gabon, Idrissa (Miguel Blondin), who has just arrived at the port of Le Havre along with other illegal immigrants. Suddenly for Marcel it is time to grow up quickly, to start to polish his own shoes and to dress like an adult in order to embrace a ‘war’ against injustice. The injustice of the French police of taking Idrissa away from his dream to join his mother in London.

In addressing the issue of immigration, one of the most important issues in politics and also in cinema today, the Finnish director is not bothered even for a second with what might be seen as politically correct or incorrect in his film. In fact often politically incorrect, his film is a clear statement that whatever state, government, law or order that seeks to destroy the dream of a son to rejoin his mother, becomes a lawless and inhuman state.
Aside from the usual cast of actors usually involved in Kaurismäki’s films, the film marks the first time he has worked with the magnificent Jean-Pierre Daroussin, who plays the role of the detective Monet. Also outstanding is the appearance of Jean-Pierre Léaud as an unfriendly and vicious neighbour.

Nicola Marzano

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