Synopsis: In this warmhearted portrait of the French harbor city that gives the film its name, fate throws young African refugee Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) into the path of Marcel Marx (AndrÃ© Wilms), a well-spoken bohemian who works as a shoeshiner. With innate optimism and the unwavering support of his community, Marcel stands up to officials doggedly pursuing the boy for deportation. A political fairy tale that exists somewhere between the reality of contemporary France and the classic cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville and Marcel CarnÃ©, Le Havre is a charming, deadpan delight.
Release Date: October 21, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Le Havre is the story of Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms from The Bohemian Life), a down on his luck ex-artist and shoe shiner in the seaside city of Le Havre, France, who alternates his time between work, home, and his local wine bar. Around the same time that Marcel’s wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen from The Man Without a Past), takes ill with a strange disease, he encounters a young African boy named Idrissa (newcomer Blondin Miguel). The confused and frightened boy, who had been trying to get to London to reunite with his mother, mistakenly ended up in Le Havre instead and escaped from an immigration raid right before Marcel found him. Marcel hides the boy, protecting him from the authorities, and eventually gets many of his friends to do the same. With the help of some of Idrissa’s fellow refugees, Marcel hunts down Idrissa’s mother’s address in London and makes arrangements to have the boy smuggled across the sea to her, but an inspector named Monet (The Snows of Kilimanjaro’s Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and the police are on to his plan, so he has to be quick and sneaky to get the boy out of the country.
Written and directed by Aki KaurismÃ¤ki (The Bohemian Life, The Man Without a Past), Le Havre is a very enjoyable film that doesn’t tackle the serious subject of human trafficking too heavily, yet doesn’t take it too lightly, either. The African immigrants are shown as both heroes and victims, and their faces show their courage and determination as well as their pain. Since Idrissa is one of the protagonists in the movie, the police who are after him are portrayed as the oppressive antagonists, faceless entities bent on deporting the young man who simply wants to join his mother in London.
Although the main struggle in the film belongs to Idrissa, the story is all Marcel’s. From Arletty’s illness to Idrissa’s journey, everything in the film revolves around Marcel, and he’s a great central character. Marcel and Arletty are dependent on each other; he brings home the little money that he earns, and she takes care of him and their home. Once she checks into the hospital, Idrissa takes her place in Marcel’s home, not quite as effective of a homemaker but still taking care of menial tasks like dishwashing. It’s an interesting trade that Marcel makes – a loving wife for a refugee boy. Marcel fills the void left in his life by his wife with the companionship of the boy.
Le Havre is a story of loyalty and trust. Adrissa has little choice but to trust Marcel, and Marcel trusts a select few of his friends to help. There is a feeling of us-versus-them between the citizens and the police, and it’s not always clear as to who is on which side. Le Havre paints an interesting picture of the port city and life within it, and entertains the audience at the same time.
Andre Wilms is far and away the star of Le Havre. His Marcel is a picture of compassion for everyone around him. Jean-Pierre Darroussin’s Monet is a serious but sympathetic cop, torn between his job and what he knows is right. When Wilms and Darroussin share screen time, they have a chemistry that just clicks. In one scene, the two men sit opposite each other in a cafe, with Monet subtly eluding that he knows Marcel is harboring the boy while Marcel politely entertains the inspector’s questions without giving up any information. The two men are engaged in a mental chess match, and both have on their poker faces. Wilms and Darroussin feed off of each other, and create an atmosphere of distrustful understanding. The interplay between the two drives more than just the one scene, it propels the whole film.
Cinematographer Timo Salminen knows what he is doing and, having worked with KaurismÃ¤ki on The Man Without a Past, presumably knows what the director wants. Le Havre has the look of a crime drama with the vibe of a feel-good picture. Salminen serves up each mood perfectly while still capturing the gritty beauty of the French coastal city of Le Havre. His attention to detail is great, and his use of light and shadows (and the switching of them in mid shot) is creative and distinct. He also makes great use of cutaway shots, glancing at everything in the scene that the viewer is supposed to notice, whether it’s a pair of handcuffs attached to a briefcase or a book of the works of Franz Kafka.
There is one particular scene that is very well done. Inspector Monet makes a call on Marcel “as a friend,” to give him “advice,” and walks to the entrance of the room in which Idrissa is hiding. He stands in the doorway while Idrissa is standing on the other side of the open door. The door divides the image frame, Monet on one side and Idrissa on the other. Marcel reaches for an iron, giving the indication that he’s willing to fight for Idrissa, but Monet backs away from the room. Whether Monet knows Idrissa is there or not is unclear, but the leading lines of the split screen combined with the cutaway of the iron in Marcel’s clenched fist builds the tension to a boil, causing the viewer to wonder if it will explode or simmer down. Either way, it’s brilliant filmmaking.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Aki Kaurismaki
- Producer(s): Aki Kaurismaki
- Screenwriter(s): Andre Williams (Marcel Marx)Kati Outinen (Arletty)Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Monet)
- Story: Blondin Miguel (Idrissa)
- Cast: Elina Salo (Claire)Evelyne Didi (Yvette) Timo SalminenWouter Zoon
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: FinlandFrance