Interview: Aki Kaurismäki (Le Havre)

Interview: Aki Kaurismäki (Le Havre). By Simon Miraudo.

Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki (ah-kee kaur-oohs-mak-ee – more fun to pronounce than even Michel Hazanavicius!) is one of the most acclaimed writer-directors in the world. Famous for his adaptation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, as well as The Match Factory Girl and The Man Without a Past, he also has a reputation as something of a renegade. Kaurismäki boycotted the 2003 Oscars – where his Past was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film – in response to America’s foreign policy at the time. This was but a blip compared to his U.S. attack of 1986, in which he directed the hilarious short film Rocky VI (the opposite of Rocky IV), in which the soviet Ivan defeats the iconic Reagan-era hero. As he is reported to phrase it, Rocky VI was “revenge on Mr. Stallone, who I think is an a**hole”. Fighting words, literally.

In his most recent picture, Le Havre, Kaurismäki invites back André Wilms to play Marcel Marx, the starry-eyed shoeshine first seen in 1992’s La Viede Bohème. The film certainly has a political undercurrent, concerning the plight of an illegal African immigrant taken under the wing of Marcel in the French port town. But it’s also warmly funny, sweet-natured, and features a show-stopping musical performance from Le Havre’s ‘local Elvis’, Little Bob. Mr Kaurismäki was kind enough to answer some of our questions via email.

This interview was originally published on January 25, 2012, to coincide with Le Havre‘s run at the Perth International Film Festival.

Check out our review of Le Havre here.

SM: What was the first germ of an idea, or seed of inspiration, for Le Havre?

AK: I was a customer of a shoe shiner and [at the] same time reading a newspaper which had news of one more sunken, refugee filled boat in Mediterranean.

SM: This is your second film to feature the character of Marcel, played once again by André Wilms. What is it about the character that drew you back to him?

AK: This way I avoided the trouble of inventing a totally new character (which always means work and worries) plus I liked the original one, kind of [like] Athos from the Three Musketeers from “La Vie de Bohème”.

SM: Are you one to write yourself into your screenplays? Do you see yourself in any one character?

AK: Mostly the main character is a tiny bit my “alter ego”, especially in the way they react to the surrounding reality.

SM: How did you find Little Bob, the Le Havre local who gets a musical interlude in the middle of the film?

AK: He is kind of Elvis of the town and it is practically impossible to not at least hear about him there, but I knew his music already from late 70s when he even had a tour in Finland.

(L-R) André Wilms,  Aki Kaurismäki, and Little Bob at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where Le Havre won the FIPRESCI Best Picture prize.

SM: Le Havre was the Finnish submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but the film unfortunately didn’t make the shortlist of potential nominees. Do you think it had anything to do with your boycott of the ceremony back in 2003?

AK: I don´t know. Maybe.  Institutions, like human beings, normally use a given possibility to a small revenge.

SM: How do you gauge the success of your films? Is it through critical and audience reception, or box office numbers, or are you able to discern at the end of filming whether or not you’ve achieved what you wanted?

AK: The producer in me is slightly interested in numbers but as a scriptwriter/director I´m most concerned of people´s reaction, not their amount.

SM: You’ve said Le Havre is the first in a trilogy about port cities. Can you tell us a little about the next instalments?

AK: Since I´m lazier than Middle East Peace Process I need to create some kind of trilogies and announce them loudly just not to continue sleeping but de facto I know nothing of the latter parts, yet.

SM: Le Havre, the town,not only has its own board game, but now its own movie. Have the locals embraced the film?

AK: They surely have and that makes me truly happy since Le Havre was not only bombed down by the Allies during the war but also in France a bit “forgotten” or “looked down” town which makes the citizens even prouder in their eternal resistance.

Le Havre opens in VIC, NSW, ACT, QLD, SA, & TAS on March 29, 2012.

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