Le Havre (2011)


(director/writer: Aki Kaurismaki; cinematographer: Timo Salminen; editor: Timo Linnasaio; cast: André Wilms (Marcel Marx), Kati Outinen (Arletty), Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Inspector Monet), Blondin Miguel (Idrissa), Elina Salo (Claire), Evelyne Didi (Yvette), Jean-Pierre Léaud (Denouncer), Pierre Étaix (Dr. Becker), Roberto Piazza (Little Bob), Quoc-Dung Nguyen (Chang), Francois Monnie (Grocer), Vincent Lebodo (Francis); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Aki Kaurismaki; Janus; 2011-Finland/France/Germany-in French with English subtitles)
Overly sentimental but warmhearted Marxist message pic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Whimsical old-fashioned filming of a modern-day political fairy tale for adults, delivering an overly sentimental but warmhearted Marxist message pic about the necessity of sticking together to fight for your rights. Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismaki(“The Man Without A Past”/”Drifting Clouds”/”Leningrad Cowboys Go America”) in a smart-alecky but gentle way gives his fantasy film a Howard Hawks Hollywood turn, as he pays homage to his resistant fighter movies from WW2 and also offers a nod to community activists, as he gleefully salivates as he presents a utopian agenda as compensation for society’s white guilt-trip over their confusing unworkable immigration laws. The tongue-in-cheek presentation astounds with a simplistic social conscience story line on how reality can be rosy if only people cared about each other, especially those of another race. To make Kaurismaki’s utopian reality obviously unreal, all those in favor of refugees in France are treated as saints while those opposed are viewed as if they were a Judas.

Former bohemian Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a free-spirit, with a loyal and loving Finnish wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen), and a friendly dog named Laika, works in the poverty-stricken section of Le Havre, mostly at the railway station by the docks, as a shoeshine man, and is a popular figure in the tight-knit working-class neighborhood with the local store owners. The shoeshiner inadvertently encounters a black African refugee adolescent boy named Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), traveling alone to London to reunite with his mom, who was a stowaway in a ship’s container, on a ship from West Africa that is stuck on the dock for days because of a bureaucratic screw-up. When the illegals in the container were caught, the kid runs away from the police. Marcel identifies with his plight and vows to get the quiet kid there by hiding him from a mysterious trench-coat wearing snoopy police inspector (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) investigating a call from a nosy neighbor (Jean-Pierre Léaud) that the wanted boy is living with Marcel.

Marcel is helped by fellow shoeshine worker Chang (Quoc-dung Nguyen), a refugee from Vietnam, who is now a French citizen, and all the good-hearted proprietors in his neighborhood, in his attempt to get the kid to London and not be deported. Meanwhile Marcel’s wife has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and is staying at the hospital for treatment, but not wanting to upset hubby tells him the cancer is benign.

To raise the dough tp pay a boat smuggler for Idrissa’s illegal passage to London, Marcel gets the local aging rock legend Little Bob (Roberto Piazza, a real-life Elvis-like rocker) to give a “trendy charity concert.”

The feelgood and anti-authoritarian working-class solidarity pic has little to say that’s new about illegals. But the slight pic has a droll humor, is upbeat, makes for a pleasantly harmless watch, and is OK by me for preferring acts of compassion than voicing loud polemical political statements.