Film: Le Havre
Cast includes: André Wilms (Europa Europa), Kati Outinen (The Man Without a Past), Jean-Pierre Darroussin (A Very Long Engagement), Blondin Miguel
Writer/Director: Aki Kaurismäki (The Man Without a Past)
Genre: Light Drama, French with subtitles (2011)
In brief: These days it isn’t easy to earn a living shining shoes in Le Havre… after all, most people on the streets wear sneakers. And shoe shiner Marcel Marx is a proud man. He doesn’t want his devoted wife Arletty to know how little money he takes in shining shoes. So he often “buys” food on credit from local merchants. Life isn’t easy for any of them. At least Marcel has Arletty. Each day when he returns to their shantytown home, he gives her all the money he’s made that day. She puts it in a little tin box, takes out some and sends Marcel to Le Moderne for an aperitif while she makes dinner. “You’re not good enough for her,” the bartender says. “No one is, so I’ll do,” he answers.
In the meantime, there are some who have it even harder than Marcel, Arletty and their friends. When guards on the dock discover a shipping container full of African refugees, we see the faces of people who will risk death to find a better life. One of them, a young boy named Idrissa, runs away before the police can round them all up. We next see Idrissa in the water under a pier. He asks Marcel, “Is this London?” “No. London’s on the other side,” Marcel tells the boy and points across the English Channel. When Marcel later notices a story in the paper about the missing refugee, he knows it’s the boy he saw at the dock. As it happens, Marcel doesn’t see Idrissa again until he returns from taking Arletty to the hospital. “Miracles do happen,” the doctor tells Arletty. “Not in this neighborhood,” she answers. Anyway, the boy has taken shelter with Marcel’s dog Laïka. Perhaps Marcel takes the boy in because the house is lonely. Perhaps it’s because he understands about kindness towards those less fortunate. Anyway, Marcel never considers turning the boy in to the police, even when the consequences of helping him seem very serious, indeed.
What a charming film! In this age of greed and hyper materialism, it’s nice to see a story about people who are willing to help those in need. As it turns out, it’s not just Marcel who has a kind heart. As the story unfolds, we get an interesting travel log of the French port city of Le Havre, as we meet the interesting characters who live there. It’s gritty, yet it’s artfully filmed. The Story is very eccentric and low-key with many touching and humorous moments. It isn’t at all clear that things are going to work out well, but the boy needs help and Marcel’s heart is in the right place. And sometimes help comes from unexpected places.
3 popped kernels
A charming story of human (and dog) kindness with no expectation of a reward
Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Any audience
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Both upbeat and somber
Tempo: In no hurry
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking