Renowned Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki returns with Le Havre (2011), his first film in six years. A delightfully deadpan homage to 60s French cinema, Le Havre is an ingenuous satirical swipe at a nation’s conflicted view towards immigration. Set within this eponymous sleepy Normandy port, Kaurismäki’s second French feature examines the mild sensationalism that consumes this provincial community when a young African boy escapes from a cargo container originally destined for London.
Marcel Marx (played with an endearing faded charm by Andre Wilms) is the film’s unconventional hero, an old fashioned gentleman with an appropriately outdated job as a shoe-shine. When his devoted wife becomes ill he’s left to his own devices, until his good-nature sees him take-in Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) the young Congolese refugee who’s attempting to find his mother in London. Marcel takes it upon himself to shelter the child from the city’s pack hound of police, whilst attempting to find a way to reunite the boy with his family.
Primarily a humanist fairytale about immigration, Kaurismäki’s distinguishable style paints a delightfully wry picture which takes two archaic belief systems and unites them to fashion a contemporary comedy about the strength of community against a jingoistic viewpoint towards illegal migration. A refreshingly light-hearted morality tale disguised as a twee fable, Kaurismäki’s playful, almost childlike film may present its views of social prejudice with a calm simplicity, yet its gentle humour and affable charisma runs much deeper.
Despite its recognisably French location, Le Havre is very much played out in Kaurismäki’s own world. Rigidly framed and consisting of unnaturally clean lines, this prolific Finnish director indulges his cinematic canvas with a palette of sharp primary colours that leap off the screen against a backdrop of dreamlike greys and whites with a vibrant urgency. The cast also perfectly compliment Kaurismäki’s deadpan approach with a collection of nuanced, low-key performances, creating an emotive series of encounters which captures the ridiculous nature of life and the idiosyncratic and introspective mannerisms of modern existence.
A characteristically offbeat comedy with a unique and inexplicably captivating aura Le Havre says very little with words and dialogue but speaks volumes through its rich aesthetics. A delectably joyous experience that combines old world charm with a roguish friskiness rarely captured on film.
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