Perth International Arts Festival – Le Havre review

Le Havre – Starring André Wilms, Blondin Miguel and Jean-Pierre Darroussin. Directed by Aki Kaurismäki. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Le Havre plays the Perth International Arts Festival from January 16 to January 22. Click here for more details.

Besides having one of the best names in cinema history, Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, (ah-kee kaur-oohs-mak-ee; go on, say it!) has a reputation as one of the finest filmmakers in the world. He reaffirms that status with the lovely little fairytale Le Havre, a movie that – like fellow 2011 Cannes entry and 2012 Perth Festival feature The Kid With A Bikeis all about generosity of spirit and the cosmic rewards afforded those who live compassionately.

André Wilms stars as Marcel Marx, a shoeshine who believes his bohemian past makes his present low-rent existence a romantic one. Marcel resides in Le Havre, a French port town that welcomes illegal immigrants by the boatload. Broke and in-debt to all the local shopkeepers, the only person who seems to respect him is his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen). But when she’s admitted to hospital with a ferocious case of cancer, Marcel is left home alone and without much of a reason to go on.

To busy himself while Arletty gets treatment, Marcel decides to help a young African immigrant named Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) get to London, and this sort-of-selfless act earns him the admiration of his neighbours. If he can evade the dogged investigator Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and help Idrissa reunite with his family, maybe – just maybe! – the universe will save Marcel’s wife. It’s an unspoken agreement, of course, but perhaps such celestial intervention won’t be required once he realises how kind and forgiving the world is willing to be on its own.

Kaurismäki’s cinematographer Timo Salminen lights and frames Le Havre as if it were for the stage; our attention is held in place by locked-off cameras and darkness obscures unnecessary areas around the action. Instead of it looking stilted and unnatural, the movie feels as if it were a delightful and gorgeously-illustrated picture book come to life. Our wonderful four leads are aided by an effervescent supporting cast of characters, and they deliver witty barbs and share tragic anecdotes of their own struggles as immigrants. It’s a pointed and political flick, disguised as a charming small-town tale, and we should be thankful there are writers and directors like Kaurismäki that can give us both at once.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Le Havre plays the Perth International Arts Festival from January 16 to January 22. Click here for more details.

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