Le Havre Reviews
From a purely stylistic viewpoint, this movie is beautiful with an eye-popping colour palette not seen in French cinema since the seventies. Of course it's writer-director is an outsider with a romantic view of France, and arguably immigration, purely gleaned from the country's pop culture. Frankly if I were French I'd find the stereotypical tableau on display here quite offensive. Wilms exists on a diet of fresh baguettes and wine while the local cafe plays whimsical chansons from fifty years ago. I almost expected a mime to turn up with garlic strung around his neck.
Scratch beneath the surface and there's little holding this together. Wilms is charming in a fairytale grandfather sort of way but most of the other cast members are wooden, in particular Finnish actress Outinen. Maybe she struggles with the French language but the desk I'm writing this on has more personality.
The problem with European cinema is that it's an old boys network. If you're an established film-maker like Kaurismaki you don't have to worry about funding so you can churn out half-developed scripts like this. The ending of this is so bad that a primary school English teacher would throw it back in the face of the pupil who submitted it. (It wasn't all a dream but it wasn't far off.)
If you have a romanticised naive vision of Europe you might enjoy this. If like me you actually live here this will just be lamentable for the wrong reasons. There are beautiful images in this film, they just don't work so well strung together over ninety minutes.
For a French language movie about the kindness of strangers go watch "The Kid With A Bike", this one's not worth the schlepp.
Outside of the changed setting, "Le Havre" might appear to seem like a normal Aki Kaurismaki movie on the surface, as it contains some of his usual touches, along with Kati Outinen in the cast. On the other hand, it is also one of his most topical movies while also one of his most optimistic, even if it is a little predictable at the end. Regardless, the movie almost feels entirely timeless, as about the only sign of present day technology is the most malicious act being carried out by a cell phone. And I think what Kaurismaki is getting at is that in the past people did not act out of fear and were actually much kinder towards each other. So, my question is do Marcel's neighbors act differently towards him when Idrissa comes into his life or is it because his wife falls ill? Or are the events connected even if they do not at first appear to be so?
Following an old shoe-shiner, Marcel Marx (André Wilms), lives an almost vagabond lifestyle traveling through Normandy trying to make enough money to sustain he and his wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen). When he returns home one night to find his wife ill in the corner of their kitchen he rushes her to the hospital but knows that he must continue shoe-shining.
Meanwhile, a cargo box is opened by French police in a port in Normandy revealing a dozen illegal African immigrants on route to London and a young boy runs out of the cargo. Now pinned as an African terrorist by the French government (the funniest moment of the film), the boy remains in hiding until he meets the depressed yet kind Marcel Marx. Marcel decides to help the boy get to London in a series of Good Samaritan like deeds.
Though the film has a nice message (kindness, love etc..), the film is an absolute waste with a resolution far too predictable.
Traditionally, American films are not location specific (unless it's a Woody Allen film), but European filmmakers are notorious for making films dedicated to cities. Many of these films are some of the greatest ever made, but this is not one of them. The film is almost too focused upon music (whether playing on a radio, record player, or a live performance by a real band popular in Le Havre). Rather than being artistic or profound, as in American director Wes Anderson's films, in Le Havre the music drags and causes uncomfortable moments of stillness that seem to ignore the true responses to music in the real world.
Had the film continued down the path that the first five minutes lead the audience to believe the film would be about, the film would be close to perfect. Sadly, Kaurismäki chose sentimentality over original writing... It's his loss.