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    I started off my experience at this year's Toronto International Film Festival with Aki Kaurismäki's "Le Havre", a rather obscure, small production that was competing for the Palme d'Or at Cannes (it was Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" that was the big winner). The question is: Did I start off on the right foot? Read on to find out...

    "Le Havre" centers on an elderly, working-class shoe shiner named Marcel Marx (played by André Wilms), living with his loving wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) in the French port city of... Le Havre. Although his profession only leaves him with enough money to get by, he never gives up hope and always finds great joy and warmth in all the people in his life-- be it his friendly, selfless, next-door neighbor or the kind owner of the local bar. Marcel's life takes a bit of a turn when he must send his ill wife to the hospital, hoping she will get better soon. But that's not it-- soon after, when he finds himself alone, eating a sandwich at the harbor, he discovers a young African boy named Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) hiding in the water. Marcel befriends him and learns that he had been hiding with many other illegal immigrants in a shipping container, with hopes of arriving in London to meet up with his aunt. The old man voluntarily goes out of his way to keep him away from authorities and completely out of sight, but soon, this situation quickly transforms into a cat-and-mouse game, lead by the persistent, intimidating, wolf- like police inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin).

    With its simplistic plot, clearly defined characters, and inviting setting, this film has all the qualities and characteristics of a great short film-- if you don't count its feature-length runtime. Is this a bad thing? Hardly! I find that this makes the film all the more absorbing and enjoyable, though slow in progression at times and thus able to make your average modern-day moviegoer lose interest. But I still believe that sometimes, it's nice to just sit down and follow a naturally flowing, straightforward story, when most of the movies you see today are flashy and overly stimulating to the point where they bore you. "Le Havre" is something refreshingly different, for a change.

    Rarely do films combine comedy with drama in such a natural, uncontrived way. With this film, Aki Kaurismäki proves to be one of the few working directors able to pull off a mixture of dark, ironic, and deadpan humor while maintaining the same upbeat, cheerful, and optimistic tone throughout the entire film. A great example of this guy's exemplary sense of humor is the opening scene of the film, where we see Marcel going around with his shoe shining materials, looking for a paying customer. He finally lucks out when he approaches a suspicious looking type holding a suitcase in his hand. As he shines this man's shoes, we see two other mysterious figures watching from a distance. It's clear that something's up. When Marcel finishes his job, the man pays him and quickly tries to escape. But it's too late; we hear gunshots, a tire squeal, and a scream as the camera lingers on Marcel, whose facial expression remains pleasant. He simply says: "Luckily he had time to pay.". Of course, since it's more of a visual gag, it's much funnier when you see it for yourself. Having said that, there's no denying that this film has very smart comedic elements.

    What I love just as much-- if not, more-- about this little film is how authentic and down-to-earth the characters are in their interactions. Every scene is made into such an accurate portrait of life thanks to all of the real, human performances from the entire cast of lesser-known actors. The only thing that threw me off was how the couple of Finnish actors in the film let their accents slip through as they were speaking French. But this would be barely noticeable for those of you who don't speak either one of these languages.

    Although this film is Finnish, it's obvious that it's shot on location in France. I was breathless as I got to admire the beauty of the ocean and the quaint coziness of the old city buildings. Sadly, this is the closest I've ever gotten to visiting France! No wonder these sights took me away.

    In sum, Aki Kaurismäki's "Le Havre" is a simple, human tale that remains light and pleasant while brushing on topics of illegal immigration and the illness of a loved-one. It's a soulful film that mixes smart humor with true emotion, without ever feeling artificial. I recommend looking for this hidden gem. You might just like it.
  • This is a sweet, lightly intoxicating thing like a small glass of calvados under the wisteria in the evening. Kaurismaki has aged and his outcast and misfit characters aged with him, the quirks mellowed, the ferocious smoking toned down, the lines in the sometimes quietly astonished stone faces deeper, wearier, but imbued with almost ascetic serenity.

    Some viewers have complained, why trivialize an actual problem in the manner of a fairy tale? A fair complaint for a problem perhaps more pressing than ever, especially in France and especially these days, with Sarkozi's desperate attempt to shore up votes for what looks like near-certain defeat in the upcoming elections by reverting to reactionary rhetorics from the far-right.

    No, I believe the fairy-tale is the point. The idyllic neighborhood. The mannered caricatures of French people, with even the poorest having the time and fine sense of taste to leisurely enjoy their freshly baked baguette or glass of wine. The miraculous turn of events, explicitly acknowledged in the finale where kindness of this world is so overwhelming it even cures sickness. How could anyone miss this?

    But a certain emptiness has always been of the essence for Kaurismaki, deliberate, designed emptiness.

    The world is always flat to that effect, two-dimensional. The characters lack any conventional depth to speak of and do not really grow or learn lessons. By contrast, the plots of the films often exhibit a life of spontaneous motion, the objectives intentionally abstract, journeys across town, to America, in search of coffee and cigarettes. Motion for the sheer musical capacity of life to fill the quiet, the room in the heart to do so.

    So it is always a variation of transient worlds centered in the stillness of the present moment that Kaurismaki has studied and consistently delivered. What is so remarkable is that he achieves this without any layering whatsoever, as a single flow.

    This is his most Japanese film to date, even more concentrated flow than usual. Which is to say artificial nature that does not attempt to pass for the real thing but instead is empty space cultivated for beauty, a road-map for inner heart.

    (I saw this together with the recent viral video KONY2012 and the contrast was amazing: that one, shameless artifice passing as nature, as truth, the real thing, contriving to motivate awareness several years after the fact and by selling merchandise, but was in truth both misinformed and morally dubious and even perhaps unwittingly manipulated agitprop in the service of shady foreign policy, while this one is simple, crisp, gracefully moral work, that does create awareness without any agendas.)

    So it is very much the point that no one in the film is shown to wallow in misery, and most of the characters we meet would have plenty of reason to do so. Instead they enjoy this drink or meal together, whatever is at hand. And act with no complaint in the present moment to do what needs to be done. There is no meddlesome thought or proud ego to cloud the mind from the day's work, be it polishing shoes or helping out an immigrant kid.

    This is the beauty of the thing: an idyll embedded with the purity of soul that gives rise to it and clear images only possible because of this cloudless eye.

    The parting image is of a blossomed cherry tree gently rocking in the breeze, among the most traditionally Japanese images.

    It encapsulates motion in stillness. The song of Zen.
  • The natural flowing of this simple movie, where no excesses are to be noticed ,may make one judge it as a weird movie, where something actually happens, but does seem to affect the lives of the characters. This is not properly true. Indeed, this is a simple movie, with no plot twists, no complications, but here does it lie its magic. It's a movie where "normal", common people simply accept their lives for what they are, which does not mean in a passive way, on the contrary they prove morally resilient people, who relate one another in an authentic way, behave as honest and fair people (so difficult to find people like these nowadays, that they look so strange!) they face bad things with dignity, and good things with no easy enthusiasm. Its best quality lies in the perfect and never clashing blend between hard facts (the hardships of immigrants, the theme of illness) and poetry, with a human faith in miracles which never sounds ridiculous or mystical: miracles happen simply because sometimes they may happen, and there's not even much to wonder at. There's such a placid attitude shown by the characters, very well interpreted by a good cast, that if the aim was to convey a calm and resilient acceptance of life, with its weird mixture of hardness and poetry, well, the aim has been successfully accomplished.
  • Great. Very stylistic in its cinematography and lighting. Condensed and to the bone in its storytelling and editing.

    Nice and subtle humour on the background of a highly contemporary story about our unbalanced globe, the hope for freedom and the power of human compassion.

    I Truly enjoyed watching a film in which every scene is so carefully and skillfully arranged. This is Kaurismäki at his best working with a great cast and a script stripped of any unnecessary dialogue. The colors and the settings are stunning. There's always a risk that movies like this would come across as to polished or constructed, but from my point of view Kaurismäki strikes a great balance and makes sure that every image adds layers and details to the story.
  • These days it seems that French films predominantly fit into one of two categories: Smug, over long and preachy, such as Rust and Bone or Little White Lies. Or they produce deeply involving but simplistic stories containing the most genuine heartfelt emotion such as Amour (in French, therefore French) or The Kid with a Bike. I am happy to say that Le Havre falls in the latter group. In fact the story here is one of pure simplicity and the tone of the film contains nothing but genuine optimism towards the theme of human compassion. That is it, this film has no ulterior motive or no gimmicks, and it is a very simply and extremely involving story based around that one simple theme. However, this film is not just a tribute to human compassion, but contained within it are tributes to the history of cinema that are quite simply a joy to experience. When I say that, the use of music as well the way certain scenes are lit pay a respectful tribute to films of the 40s and 50s throughout the narrative.

    This is not to say that this film is not without its realism, Marx and his neighbours all live a humble life bordering on poverty. The plight of Idrissa is unenviable and there is an honest depiction of a refugee camp just outside Calais. However, the theme of Le Havre is not that life is simply good, that would be naive. It is how these characters deal with life and the situations that it presents. Of course it would be so easy to fall into to the trap of patronising and borderline preachy cliché here, but this never happens due to the genuine feeling of honesty depicted throughout the narrative. Every character is presented very honestly with all their flaws quite clear to see, but it is their ability for natural compassion that drives the narrative forward. By the time Le Havre reaches its very satisfying conclusion where there are no loose ends, it is difficult not to feel that not only have you been entertained, but also enlightened.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    To my great pleasure, I have just seen this film. So, my impression and positive feelings, which I got from the movie, haven't vanished yet.

    To describe it, well, I couldn't say this film has a very deep meaning, I couldn't say it offers some philosophic ideas to contemplate, I couldn't even say it's logic in every way. As a matter of fact, the film could be accused of being just an empty, trendy imitation of the past. A past, which has actually never existed, and which is just an unreal image of our imagination, created by idealizing times which have already gone. But, to my great surprise, I still enjoy watching it. It's because I enjoy seeing such nice imitation, such nice image of life, which consists of a lot of idealism, which is idyllic and even Utopian. I bet many people miss idealism in their lives and this film just gives them what they want. As it is known, the concept of every movie is to imitate the reality, even create a new reality, which consists of things which we lack in our real life. It's just like cinema genius Alfred Hitchcock said long time ago: "the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake". So this stands for the fact the film is good.

    Being more certain, I like „Le havre", because it's nice to watch it. Every set is selected precisely. Voices of actors sound pleasantly. Everything is full of harmony in this film: characters communicate often, they help each other when troubles come in the movie. Marcel's wife does a lot for her husband, she doesn't even tell him she's dying (in order to protect him from suffering). Marcel does a lot for love too. He helps immigrant boy to find his origin. Every resident of Le havre town stand together for the boy, they stand for love, for ideal and they manage to defeat the troubles, the threats which come from outside world. Of course, they do this, they show their idealism not too much, the film is not too „sugary'. The mechanism is quite opposite, it's something like „less is more": less feelings, showed exactly in the right time are less banal, more real, more influential.

    Some people may laugh, find humor in some episodes of the film, some, especially those who are insensitive may find „Le havre" vast. Those who tend to conceal their feelings, may even hate the film. But it's just as they say – you love it, you hate it – it's the same, you simply can't manage without it. So that's why the film is suitable for a very wide range of people – I guarantee everyone would be affected by it one way or another.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It's all so familiar: The shabby, old worn interiors, the far from picturesque scenery, those slightly patina-covers images with their dirty soft colors, the slowness, those long shots which are hardly more than stills, even the hairdos. Not only do Aki Kaurismäki's films have a very distinctive look and feel, they all have this quality of watching something that is not quite there. Nostalgia is the wrong word, but his films and more so his characters have fallen out of time. They are creatures of the past, but the present they end up in is not quite the present we know either. There is a timeless quality or rather a different sense of time in the slow movements, the museum-like atmosphere, the silence. More often than not Kaurismäki's characters are not exactly talkers. So it is no surprise that Le Havre looks a lot like Helsinki but there sure is a lot more talking going on.

    At the end of the day, Le Havre both is and is not a typical Kaurismäki. It is his most upbeat and optimistic film to date. Gone is most of his trademark melancholia, the despair many of his protagonists have to fight and sometimes succumb to. On the other hand, his films have never been as cynical, hopeless or pessimistic as the occasional viewer may think. On the contrary, underlying his work has always been a basic belief in the goodness of humankind - at least the underprivileged part of it, those on the outskirts of society. And there always has been a fairy-tale quality in many of his films. Le Havre can be regarded as the culmination of both: a truly optimistic fairy-tale, a story about goodness which well may be too good to be true. But maybe it is not.

    André Wilms reprises his role from Kaurismäki's 1992 film La Vie de Bohème, however, Marcel, the unsuccessful writer, has turned into a shoe cleaner - a profession that belongs to a different time, too. One day he finds an African boy who escaped when the police found the container in which he and dozens of others tried to get to London. He takes him in and eventually gets him to London. Meanwhile, Marcel's wife (the wonderfully dignified sad angel Kati Outinen) is diagnosed with a fatal sickness which she refuses to tell Marcel about. Don't be surprised though, if a miracle is in the making here, too.

    This may be a run-down, shabby world but it is inhabited by the best kind of people one could imagine. And they're not flat characters, but full-blooded sinners with exceptionally good hearts. This is, after all, a fairy tale with a fairy tale ending but it is also more - a celebration of the human spirit, of goodness in the face of adversity, a beautiful vision of what the world could be if we all tried a little harder to do the right thing.

    At the same time, Kaurismäki never loses sight of the evil humans do to each other. TV excerpts and a relentless police hunt highlight the plights of immigrants in today's France and elsewhere. if there is a message here it is that each of us must start in their own lives to do good, only then do we have a chance to make this place we call earth a little better. It is a simple message but told like this it is hard to escape its grip. And who ever said that answers cannot be simple sometimes?

    Kaurismäki creates beautiful as well as memorable images, mostly stills such as the one in the harbour with the boy in the front and Marcel in the background. An image of longing and also of togetherness. The most intense scene occurs when the container is opened and the camera goes from face to face. All turns quiet, a choking silence that is hardly bearable. And eyes who tell stories that could fill books.

    Not all is dead serious though, there is a playful element to this film. Kaurismäki starts it with a wonderfully cliché noir scene and ends it in n equally cheesy melodrama. Don't take me too seriously, we might hear him say, I'm just throwing some ideas at you. Catch them if you like.
  • cultfilmfan19 January 2012
    Le Havre is a film from Finland in French with English subtitles. The film focuses on a middle aged man named Marcel, who makes a living going around town and working as a shoe shiner. Business is not always great and at home Marcel lives a very simple life with his much adored wife, Arletty. One day a group of refugees are found in town and one of them, a young boy named, Idrissa escapes and is wanted by the local chief inspector and the police. Marcel one day stumbles across the boy and shows kindness to him and the next thing he knows, Idrissa shows up at his home. The rest of the story is about how out of his way, Marcel will go to hide and protect the boy from the police and to find a way to get him back with his family. Le Havre is a great film on several different levels. The acting here from the whole cast is all very good here and just their facial expressions and deadpan looks say a lot even when there is nothing in particular to be said. They convey the feelings and thoughts and emotions of their characters perfectly. The direction and writing of this film by Aki Kaurismaki is also a real delight here. He provides us with some very interesting characters and a good story to use and put them to work in. I also found that the film had just the right blend of humour and drama. Ultimately this is a feel good film and I think almost anybody who watches it will leave feeling very happy and joyful. The story and events in the film are simple enough and nothing is done to extravagance, but I think what really got me about the whole thing was the kindness not only Marcel, but his friends and neighbours, show to Idrissa, knowing that if they are caught, they too could be in a lot of trouble. It was really refreshing to see these characters live their simple yet happy lives and find happiness in things we take for granted and how when one needs help, they will be the first ones there to lend a hand and offer support. They work together well as a community and more than that they are great friends and neighbours who look out for each other. That was what I really thought got me about Le Havre, the basic message of the kindness of strangers and being the good Samaritan and helping out your fellow man. The film I might add is also quite a good looking film and I really admired it's cinematography. At one time it shows buildings and homes in bright primary colours and then goes to show us bleak and older homes that are a bit run down and much more simple. The colour scheme and the effect of this further added to my appreciation of the film and how these characters live. The cinematography actually reminded me of the works of French cinematographer Raoul Coutard, whose work I came to know and love in Jean-Luc Godard's films such as Contempt (which looks absolutely exquisite on it's Blu Ray release), but now back to Le Havre. This is a film where much joy and laughter can be had, but also gives us hope for each other and the human race. The film may be a little unrealistic in that regard of showing the goodness in people, but any film that has that as it's central message and gives us something to not only think about, but to feel good about after is a winner in my books. It may even get you to re-evaluate your own attitudes and perspectives on things, so keep an open mind while watching. This is one of the most entertaining and inspiring films of 2011 and also one of the best.
  • Protagonist is Marcel Marx, A Shoeshiner, who makes a peaceful living with his wife Arletty and a dog Laika in city of Le Havre. He incidentally meets an African boy, Idrissa, who is being sought by French authorities as illegal immigrant. Marcel opens his doors to the boy and helps him make his way to join his mother across the water in London.

    Despite the complication of Arletty's terminal illness, about which Marcel is not aware, the snooping of grim-faced inspector Monet, and the machinations of the neighborhood snitch, with the help of neighbors and friends that Marcel was deeply in debt to forgive everything for Idrissa, Marcel tries to help the boy.

    Kudos to Aki Kaurismäki, the director of Le Havre, for his directorial talent he has exhibited in this movie. No loose ends, characterization and usage of every character is excellent and has kept it very simple by all means.

    Once in while you get to watch such an optimistic film that shows love, respect and tolerance for one another in a very simple and practical manner.

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  • ao5902 January 2014
    This was one of the most visually stunning films I've ever seen. You could pause very nearly every shot and use it as screensaver or make a large print of it; that's how beautiful and well thought out they are.

    Aki Kaurismäki evokes a sense of times past. He embraces the 'unreality' of his film, and the genre as a whole, and plays it up with great wit and art. As mentioned by previous reviews, he combines tragedy and comedy seamlessly into an extremely enjoyable and engaging film that doesn't try to pass itself off as life and as such engages on much deeper levels than its straightforward message or story would perhaps imply.

    There are so many small details and well-thought out quirks here that keep your attention that it easily accommodates for my internet fried attention span, even while the director chooses not to openly deal with the electronic world. It's a decision indicative of the thoughtful and unique approach to the film; it aids both the storyline and the viewer's experience immensely. I was grateful and relieved to be taken away into a simpler and more honest world; both in the film's outward image, and within the story's universe. Its worth emphasising; this film doesn't try to masquerade as real life and as such allows for a much purer enjoyment. You don't have to worry about checking your expectations once the end credits roll.

    Being beautifully shot may not have kept my attention for an hour and half, but the storyline and Kaurismäki's wit certainly did.
  • In 1992, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki directed LA VIE DE BOHEME, where he transplanted to Paris for a story of impoverished, failed artists on the cusp of society. A funny, sad film about art, love, and loss. Nearly twenty years later, Kaurismaki returns to France in LE HAVRE; while some of the humor remains, its story of the impoverished and dispossessed is even more affecting.

    LA VIE... showed a painterly visual sense, all the more amazing that it was filmed in black and white. LE HAVRE boasts an equally striking visual sense, with scenes that seem to glow. That said, other elements of the production are less convincing - and at times. almost embarrassing. (For example, a group of black refugees are locked in a container crate for almost a week; when it's opened, no one's hungry or even concerned, and several are freshly shaved.)

    LE HAVRE sets up the camera in a stationary spot - much like an old silent - giving the film a real resonance. But this affection for older filmmaking will be familiar for Kaurismaki fans; his silent, black and white JUHA uses the same minimalistic approach, with good results.

    If you're willing to forgive certain production details and the dependence on melodrama, LE HAVRE is a feel-good story of how those of modest means can help those in desperate straits. (LE HAVRE itself was directed under low budget.) The film's humanism is its saving grace. While the filmmaking is occasionally awkward, there's still a lot to be admired here.
  • He's one of the directors (very few) there you recognize who's made the movie just after a couple of seconds. Kaurismäki has a tender view on shabby environments and shabby people. It has suited his Finland conception very well.

    But it functions also in France and Le Havre, there you meet this shoe-polisher who tries to help a refugee boy. Not just the shoe-polisher, all working class people do.

    It's a little miracle like every film in a sort of way is everywhere, but Kaurismäki takes it on without shame. And his environments and his tenderness seem to be universal. France is like Finland and the rest of the world.
  • Like every fairy-tale, this film by Aki Kaurismaki is unbelievable, but this apparent fake doesn't hide a sad reality behind the good intentions of the simple people that help the illegal immigrant child to arrive finally to London, wherein we couldn't predict what kind of life waits for him. A slow rhythm, (some scenes seem like stills), and a brilliant and strong color that contribute to the atmosphere of unreality, the frustration to the normal expectations of the viewers that are carried to imagine the worst, and receive on the contrary the sudden impact of the best, don't prevent to bring to the conscience the images of the cruel world that surrounds the miracle of solidarity that saves, perhaps momentarily, just one of the hundred persecuted. The bad and the good boys are generally discovered by the camera, which leaves, significantly, in off the figure of the pitiless chief of policy, and introduces in darkness the figure of the denouncer. Le Havre is an optimist movie with a very dubious happy end.
  • Long ago I used to be a fan of Aki Kaurismaki's films, but his latest films just go on my nerves. What used to be fresh is now only painfully repetitive. Like this film, which is so naive, false, pretentious and ridiculous, combined with poor storytelling and direction. Of course the actors, like Andre Wilms and his dog, are good and the cinematography is flawless, but I can't really understand, that serious people take this film seriously and some find it even a work of a genius! It seems that what ever he does, some people hail without any closer analysis. Le Havre's message is of course human and important, but it's completely wasted, the film doesn't do justice to its subject matter. It's just mediocre in every respect.
  • First of all, I must say that I was greatly surprised yesterday at Sodankylä. I was staff member at Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä, Finland. The Large Tent was more than sold out, there were more than eight hundred people inside. Tent capacity was designed for 700 spectators.

    Mr. Kaurismäki itself was there speaking to the audience and receiving questions. Applause was huge.

    Actually I wasn't expecting anything. I haven't seen much A. Kaurismäki's films but I had heard about them a lot. I didn't even know that it was film's premiere. Everybody else knew, I'm sure.

    Le Havre was humorous story about immigrating and people's fancy relationships. I laughed so much that evening. The experience was breath-taking. Very serious problem was handled so well in the movie. I love it.
  • jadepietro19 December 2011
    This film is not recommended.

    Le Havre has been on quite a few best film lists this year. It seems many critics have been beguiled with its Gaelic charm, optimistic story, and its winning cast, led by Andre Wilms as an impoverished shoe shine man, Marcel. I wasn't. It all seems so superficial and silly to me.

    Writer / director Aki Kaurismaki wants you to suspend your disbelief with his romantic notion of the good in everyman. His parable tells the story of an illegal immigrant from Africa named Idrissa ( Blondin Miguel ) seeking refuse with a kind working class type in the French seaport town that has many other working class types. In fact, the whole town immediately jumps on the bandwagon to help this boy escape the authorities and continue his odyssey to meet his mother in England. Why they even put on a show to earn the smuggling fee! ( By the way, that show is performed by an odd little rocker named Little Bob who resembles a 60's troll doll, definitely a John Waters touch. ) Of course all this activity is under the suspicious eyes of Inspector Monet ( Jean-Pierre Darroussin ) complete with pencil-thin mustache and channeling Inspector Clouseau's spirit, who is on the case in pursuit of justice.

    Le Havre lacks credibility while wholeheartedly celebrating the human spirit. Here's just one ambiguous example with which I had issue: Idrissa, a fugitive and wanted man, is constantly out and about town, sitting on curbs, taking a bus, etc. Yet he avoids any capture by Monet or anyone else for that matter. It just seemed far too ludicrous to me, as did the trivializing of such a serious issue as illegal immigration and its tragic consequences.

    The cast contributes greatly to the film's slender story with their quirky personas and low-key acting. Why this uplifting film would make Frank Capra blush with its all so positive message and its dreams of everyday miracles! Oh, I forgot to mention Marcel's wife is dying of cancer. Will she find a cure or will she continue to suffer? Some questions just need no answers, do they, mon ami?

    With its one-dimensional fairy-tale viewpoint, Le Havre ( The Haven ) made me search for the nearest retreat fast. Its charms eluded me completely. GRADE: C

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  • Warning: Spoilers
    Marcel Marx (André Wilms) is a shoe shiner in Le Havre and lives with his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen). When Arletty becomes ill and is hospitalized, Marcel takes care of the 8-year-old Idrissa, an illegal immigrant boy from Africa who wishes to go his mother in London. Marcel is persecuted by the local police, but manages to get Idrissa on a boat to England.

    Kaurismäki's films are stripped of all the flashy events and lumber units. People and places are here and now without any explanation, which is also the film's weakness, the characters lack complexity. Emotions are expressed with looks and gestures and that's enough. The script is also drawn down to a minimum. Some lines are supposed to be funny, but for me they are too simple and unnatural for the story.

    So Le Havre is a naive made film and ends positively as on order. The cherry tree is in bloom when the wife Arletty miraculously recovers from her illness. The boy Idrissa is rescued because the local police officer actually commits misconduct when neglecting trafficking. That's not very charming, is it? But I like the people and the story and am also relieved when the tragedy never happens, but miracles take place and everyone is happy. But the film is actually about rather complex and intricate social problems as alienation, racism, immorality and despair. Kaurismäki consciously overlooks the importance of these issues and gets away with that, which annoys me somewhat.

    Marcel has got an aristocratic look and seems a miscast as a shoe shiner. He stands misplaced and awkwardly with his cans and rags on the pavement waiting for customers. In the movie description, we learn that he is a former sculptor. The colored boy Idrissa is himself and looks wide-eyed at what is happening around him. Marcel's dog Laika is said to be Kaurismäki's own pet and is cute and well directed.
  • Being my all time favourite director, i had really high expectations for this film, but after watching it few times can say i'm rather disappointed. Cinematographically it's flawless, and this is something that Kaurismaki has refined over the years: the scenes, the lights and the colors. On the other hand the story; still has this special mixture of simplicity, absurdity and realism, But it's mostly the child personage that bothers me, because it draws too much empathy from the public, which I think is a cheap-trick for such a great director. What I like about his "loser" characters is that I can laugh at their sufferings – here this is not so much the case. It appears "tolerant"; "politically correct", clichés that are appealing for wider public. He has always been nostalgic in a very ironic way; this time it seems to me he's just getting old
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Aki Kaurismäki is the extreme left-leaning Finnish director hell bent on satisfying every raving Francophile's dream. With 'Le Havre' he's outdone even the most radical of today's French libertarians by fashioning a tale of a never-say-die, radical liberal curmudgeon, out to save victimized third worlders from the clutches of a 'fascistic' police state (for Kaurismäki that of course includes the Catholic church).

    Our curmudgeon hero in question is Marcel, whose surname Kaurismäki unsubtly dubs 'Marx'. A self-described Bohemian, Marcel used to be a bourgeoisie writer but now shines shoes for a living, obviously sharing an affinity with his working class associates (Marcel's shoe shine partner is an undocumented alien from Vietnam who carries a fake ID). Marcel is also a free-loader, often taking food from neighborhood shopkeepers on credit, with no intention of satisfying his debts. The neighbors tolerate him as Marcel's wife, Arletty (named after the legendary French actress of 'Children of Paradise' fame), appears to be a pleasant, unassuming type and soon become much more sympathetic as she falls ill (with cancer) and has to be hospitalized.

    The inciting incident occurs when the police find a shipping container loaded with African immigrants at a dock in Le Havre. A young boy, Idrissa, runs away and a police officer is about to shoot him with an automatic weapon (only to be stopped by kindly police inspector Monet, who instructs the officer not to fire since he's only a child).

    Wouldn't you guess but Marcel and Idrissa's paths cross and soon enough, Marcel is committed to helping the boy. He travels a long way to a detention center where he finds the boy's grandfather who informs him that Idrissa's mother is now living in London (believe it or not, 'Le Havre' is billed as a comedy and Kaurismäki finds it amusing that the warden at the detention believes Marcel when he claims he's Idrissa's Albino uncle!).

    The curmudgeon, now turned unstoppable hero, must find a way to hide Idrissa since the big, bad police are after him. He asks one of the neighborhood shopkeepers, to hide the boy, and she graciously complies by safeguarding him in her apartment above her shop. Another shopkeeper, initially cross with Marcel, now gives him loads of food for the beleaguered Idrissa. In contrast to what happened in World War II, average Frenchmen here are depicted as natural humanitarians who will even break the law in the name of justice. Only government officials, backed by the aforementioned bad guy police force and a reactionary clergy, stand in the way of Idrissa's liberation.

    Marcel needs a ton of cash to have Idrissa transported by boat to his mother in London, so he dreams up the idea of a benefit rock concert. All he has to do is convince a local pop star to perform but first must bring the pop star and his wife back together after they've had a lover's spat (again, we're supposed to laugh when Marcel reconciles the two wounded lovebirds).

    After Marcel raises the cash and brings Idrissa to the boat, Inspector Monet shows up (as he's done throughout the film) and makes it clear that he's thoroughly on Marcel's side. When the police come on board, he pulls rank and pretends that Idrissa isn't below, in the hold of the boat. One is reminded of the scene in 'Casablanca', where Inspector Renault covers for Rick who has just shot Major Strasser. Just as Monet misdirects his police officers, Renault misdirects the Germans by ordering them to "round up the usual suspects".

    Earlier, we see Monet reassuring the Prefect inside the church that he's determined to catch the boy but it's obvious that he has no intention of keeping his word to the religious authorities (seen here as in league with the 'devil' police state). Funny how Monet so easily is determined to risk his entire career for this one boy and join forces with the disgruntled Marcel. You'll also notice that Kaurismäki dare not suggest that any of the Africans that he introduces us to, are anything but upstanding, saintly citizens.

    To top it off, Kaurismäki cannot allow his audience to experience any of the hard knocks we might encounter during our travails in life. In the shockingly sentimental ending, Marcel's wife who has a terminal diagnosis, miraculously is cured and returns home with Marcel, presumably to put up with his never-ending curmudgeonly ways.

    As a registered Democrat, I am generally sympathetic to liberal causes. However, when some of my more radical left leaning brethren decide to twist reality by proffering up fairy tales of victimization and undeserved heroes sticking up for straw men victims, I can hardly remain silent. Le Havre is watchable to see just how far its misguided director will go in peddling such a self-righteous, sentimental left wing fairy tale.
  • Marcel Marx is an old shoeshiner in the French port city of Le Havre. He doesn't have money to pay for things that he 'buys on credit'. One night, a dock worker hears a baby inside a container. Police inspector Monet find a group of African illegals inside. One boy Idrissa escapes. Marcel takes pity on the boy and takes him in. Monet is after the boy while people in the poor community help out. The boy's group was going to London and Marcel intends to help him complete his journey.

    This is more of a social commentary fantasy. The acting has an air of artificiality which annoyed me. It's static and too cool. It's a deliberate style that may work better for the critics. I can't stand the stone face acting. That plus the subtitles leave a barrier to the comedy. I would have been better to have the lead Marcel as a silent Tramp.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is reminiscent of Marcel Pagnol's great trilogy Marius, Fanny, Cesar, which was also set in a French port. There are, of course, close to a thousand miles separating Marseilles in the South from Le Havre in the north but both are imbued with a strong sense of community and both address the realities of life and both furnish happy endings. Very little happens here - a group of illegal immigrants are discovered in a container on the docks; one, a young boy, runs away and is befriended by a man who shines shoes for a living; the man's wife develops a terminal illness. A great deal of film time is spent eating, drinking,and talking. The shoeshine man organises a concert to raise money to pay for the boy's illegal passage to England, he visits his wife in hospital. A police Inspector who investigates crime rather than illegal immigrants circles in the background. The boy gets away, the man's wife recovers. It's not unlike lifting a pebble in a rock pool and examining the life going on there. It's a beautiful film, finely acted by an ensemble cast virtually unknown with the exception of the magnificent Jean-Pierre Darroussin as the policeman.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The director Aki Kaurismäki's films are so dry that I may only describe the characters and their situations if I try to talk about his movies in my writing – and I might get away with my delinquency. His deadpan approach is so simple that you probably do not understand why it is funny until you see it for yourself. For instance, one character in his new film "Le Havre" buys a certain fruit in the middle of the story, and then he walks into the bar to have some conversation with a bar owner. The camera does nothing except simply observes the man sitting on one of the tables and the fruit placed on the table right next to him, but it somehow made me smile.

    Kaurismäki's films are usually set in the urban area of Finland, and his unhappy characters are stuck in hard time while yearning for the escape from the ennui and dreariness of their daily life, as shown in "Shadows in Paradise"(1986) and "Ariel"(1988). But this time, it is a little different. Set in Le Havre, a French port city in Normandy, he presents us a middle-aged couple content with their poor lifestyle and happy to be together – and he makes a movie warmer and more accessible than before.

    Marcel(André Wilms) is a shoeshine living in Le Havre(I am curious – how many cities in the world are called "The Harbor"?). He moves around the different places in the city for earning money, but it is not so easy for him to work on these days(the opening scene made me to be conscious about what I was wearing on my feet). While watching him working, I thought he would envy the shoeshines I saw in Seoul, who usually occupy the booths on the streets as their workplace for doing other things besides polishing the shoes. I remember that I once needed my shoes to be polished as soon as possible when I was about to attend the lab colleague's wedding; I went into one of those booths, and the guy did a marvelous job with my old shoes I seldom wore.

    Anyway, let's get back to the film itself. Marcel does not earn money much, but there is always the place waiting for him whenever the day is over. There are his good working-class neighbours, including the bakery owner who demands Marcel to pay off his accumulating bill while well aware of that he will probably never do that. He tells her he will pay it all when a good chance comes(he mentions about "the inheritance" of his wife), but it is a lie, and both know that. The grocery shop owner across the alley chooses a more direct way – he shuts down the store instantly when Marcel walks to the store, though, as we learn later, he is a nice man, after all.

    Marcel was once a free-living bohemian who wanted to be a writer when he was young, but now he is settled with his wife Arletty(Kati Outinen – do you remember her far younger self in "Shadows in Paradise" and "The Match Factory Girl"(1990)?) and their dog Laika in their shabby house. We do not know much about how they met in the past(I guess they started as "the best roommates"), but the low-key performances of Wilms and Outinen succinctly conveys us a dry but loving relationship between them.

    Meanwhile, a group of illegal immigrants from Gabon, who tried to go to London, are found by the police at one of those huge containers at the port after locked in there for days due to their bad luck. One of them, a boy named Idrissa(Blondin Miguel), manages to escape. When he goes to the riverside to have a lunch, Marcel comes across him hiding from the police. He gives Idrissa the food later, and Marcel soon finds himself taking care of him at his house while the newspapers make a big fuss about this shy, quiet, and nice boy.

    Marcel does more than that to help Idrissa. He goes to Calais to find and meet Idrissa's grandfather who was with him in that container. He even concocts a secret plan to send Idrissa to London where Idrissa's mother lives. While Marcel is absent, Idrissa can take care of himself well, and Laika, who deserves to appear with others in the movie poster, is always near him.

    Marcel's neighbours also help him, too. Except one petty guy(Jean- Pierre Léaud – remember Antoine Doinel in "400 Blows"(1959)?), his neighbours do not tell anything to the police. Captain Monet(Jean-Pierre Darroussin, very serious with a black suit, a black coat, black shoes, black gloves, and a black hat) seems to be determined to do his job, but Darroussin gives us a subtle hint that Monet does not like what he has to do. Monet can be flexible, and the loose suspense of the film depends on how much flexible he can be.

    While Marcel is busy with helping Idrissa, Arletty is in the hospital. She knows she has been ill, and she hides that from her husband, but she can't hide it from him any more now, except that her days can be counted. She is sent to the hospital early in the film, so she does not know much about what is going around her husband, but, when Idrissa comes to her at the hospital to deliver the message from her husband, she accepts the message from the boy she barely knows. Outinen expresses little in the face, but this scene is one of the warmest spots in the film along with its charming soundtrack. Later in the story, there is an illegal concert promoted by Marcel and his Vietnamese colleague(Quoc Dung Nguyen) to gather the money for helping Idrissa, and a singer named Little Bob(Roberto Piazza) gets a little showstopper moment with his live performance.
  • Another joyous work from the Finnish master Kaurismaki whose films always brim with delight and wry humour, an unmistakably Finnish sense of humour. In typical whimsical fashion Kaurismaki has created a charming story set in a nondescript time in a place that couldn't be more current evidenced by the major conflict in the film, the issue of illegal immigration. Le Havre is a city that suits Kaurismaki like any other place in Finland, with it's traditional working class port and harbour, the unique blend of French cultures and English climate. As a francophile with his very dry nordic wit and humour, Kaurismaki is perfect for this somewhat dire subject.

    In trademark Kaurismaki style, it is also a very colourful film; with the help of his (brilliant) veteran cinematographer Timo Salminen, Kaurismaki imbues the city of Havre with life, humour in what is characteristically (perhaps only in my perception) a grim and (literally) cold place. Kaurismaki has always had a great eye of visuals, some of his compositions with Salminen are gorgeous: notice the impressionistic ray of sunlight illuminating a grey stone wall at the Gare de Calais, the boisterous colours of the fruit and veg shop with it's provincial style store front, even the shipping containers by night in the rain are haunting and melancholic. It's as if the film was shot in Technicolor, so vibrant is the palette of colours (consistent in most of Kaurismaki's works) it looks like it belongs in an era decades ago. This is coupled with the fact, the style is almost anachronistic from the style of fashions to the modest decor of Marcel's house and the local bar, to the rotary dial phones and very little other modern technology. It is all an utterly charming strange universe.

    Kaurismaki's films always play out like a fable of sorts, the every day man (or woman in Drifting Clouds), lives simply in a modest lifestyle, almost on the edge of poverty, making ends meet, with a dream or catalyst to set them off some expected new life. In this case, a writer of sorts Marcel Marx lives each day just to get by and care for (or be taken care of) his equally devoted wife Arletty. When she gets sick and has to go to hospital, she prefers not to worry him and understates her sickness, so he can go along and continue with his life. At the same time he discovers a young boy Idrissa who is on the run from authorities after illegally immigrating from Africa with what looks like entire family of about 20-30 members. His kind and mellow heart leads leads him to foster the boy under his roof with he help of the kindly townsfolk (and the absolutely heart meltingly irresistible Golden Retriever Laika!). However local inspector Monet is on the hunt to restore things to natural (read legal) order.

    This combination of hard edged social realism with the young boy and his family' dire outcome and the joyous optimism of Kaurismaki's benevolent play off watch other beautifully. There is some much dry humour in detective Monet's interaction with the townsfolk, the hopeful and determined innocence of Marcel's quest to reunite the boy with his family which belies his simple and bucolic lifestyle, and the efforts of Arletty to ask her doctors to lie to her husband so not to worry him.

    Although not as ingenious as his masterwork The Man Without a Past (2002) perhaps lacking the incisiveness and tension in that film (admittedly I've only seen that and Lights in the Dusk (2006)) however Kaurismaki remains in the top eschelon of the very great filmmakers working today due to his incomparable individuality and visual style, generosity and sincerity of his characters, some of which are hopeless nobodies, but they grow on you. He is foremost a humanist storyteller, challenging his characters to do their best, not always perfectly, but with the right heart. I was utterly charmed by this world of Le Havre; in a serious subject about current problems today, that's not always easy to smile about.
  • I made the mistake of watching this (and hence costing me 93 minutes of my life) just because it garnered a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I wish to deter anyone else from wasting time on this movie.

    A Family Guy character once said "It's either bad meat or good cheese...". Likewise, Le Havre is either a bad movie or good art.

    The acting is pretty bad, especially from the Gabonese boy.

    I don't know if this was supposed to be some sort of a throwback tribute to movies from a half-century ago, but the facial close ups and the dramatic and exaggerated actions (e.g. when the Gabonese boy runs from the container) were just a total bore and highly unamusing.

    The RT summary says "Aki Kaurismäki's deadpan wit hits a graceful note with Le Havre, a comedy/drama that's sweet, sad, and uplifting in equal measure." I could see the deadpan. But not the wit, nor the sweetness, nor the sadness, nor was I uplifted in anyway. I was just deeply annoyed.

    But of course, I didn't major in film history during college, so what would I know?

    Edit: I forgot to mention the bit where the wife is in hospital and her friends read her Kafka. I think I was supposed to go: "Oooh ... Kafka ... this must be a deep and profound movie."
  • A well dressed man with an attache' case handcuffed to his wrist has his shoes shined and then walks toward a train platform and we hear a scream. the man who has polished his loafers is Marcel, who tells a nearby friend that they better leave before the law arrive and ask questions.

    Marcel then is forcefully evicted for plying his trade in front of a store and continues his rounds, finally stopping for bread on his way home to his wife and dog. Before dinner, he takes mans best friend for a walk and visits a local bar for a night cap.

    Next, a group of police officers and Red Cross workers arrive at a shipping container and when it is opened they discover a group of black immigrants stowed away inside. A small boy runs from them and escapes. Marcel sees him under a bridge and offers him food and water. Unfortunately, the officials are nearby and ask Marcel if he has seen the escapee and he says no.

    Back to the bar where Marcel has a conversation with his friend, Chang about his legal status. Chang tells him that he was easily able to purchase fake identification papers in order to remain in France.

    Marcel's wife is admitted to the hospital for tests for severe abdominal pain and when her husband returns home he finds the runaway hiding there. He feeds Idrissa, and the child tells him that he is on his way to England to reunite with his mother.

    A nosy neighbor looking out his window sees the hideaway and calls the police. A woman friend, Yvette, agrees to hide and take care of Idrissa while Marcel travels to Calais to a refugee camp and the boys grandfather tells him that his daughter is in London and has a good job there.

    In the meantime, the law is in hot pursuit of the dangerous little criminal, who has made the local press. Marcel arranges for a boat to transport Idrissa to Britain but needs $3,000 Euros. The townspeople rally together for a benefit concert to raise the cash. The conclusion is somewhat sentimental but can be overlooked for the positive redeeming message of this film.
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