Le Havre from director Aki Kaurismäki

American one-sheet by Manuele Fior for Le Havre

Every few years a film is loved by so many different types of film critics that you can’t deny its power and beauty. Such is the case this year with director Aki Kaurismäki’s newest film Le Havre. Set in the small French harbor city of the same name as the title, Le Havre shows how luck, compassion, humor, community, brotherhood and the quality and decency of human beings can be honored in a somewhat decaying and dehumanized world. With a soundtrack that spans orchestral scores from 20’s and 30’s cinema to the French pop and new wave foundations set in the 70’s, the cinematic relationship of sound and vision is given full attention in all areas of this film. The music selected for Le Havre blends so well with the style of film and the small port city setting that it as equally rewarding as the concept of the film itself. This film displays techniques that are superbly fashioned into the emotional fragments acted out scene to scene and no emotion is sparred in Le Havre because of it. Recently, this new film has been nominated for Finland’s Oscar submission. Janus Films is proudly representing the North American distribution of this film with premieres occurring in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday, October 21, 2011.

Le Havre is bringing back a renaissance in French pre-war cinema. It is the type of story that shows the possibility and hope in the prevailing nature of kindness, compassion and love that can be harvested in communities. It is a film that demands people to remember the goodness that can be left in larger portions of humankind that we see today. Cinema has always been a powerful tool to affect how people view this world and director Aki Kaurismäki has no hidden meanings or agenda in the presentation of Le Havre. This is a contribution in the film world that everyone can relate to but does not sacrifice artistic integrity to cater towards any pocket of culture or society. Films of the 20’s and 30’s paved a way for heroes and a few of the characters in Le Havre are made into these cinematic real-life heroic figures.

This is the type of film making you have to appreciate in a time we live in. With mounting and collapsing problems in the world, a film that shows the unlikely yet heroically compassionate interweaving path of a man’s yearning to help a young helpless boy who has been cruelly separated from his family is needed. Le Havre shows this type of interweaving path with refugee Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) and a former bohemian and artist of Paris, France Marcel Marx (André Wilms). Marcel is an almost retired citizen of Le Havre who still carries himself as an aspiring author whose shoe-shining gigs serve as his day job. With much time on his age, the way Marcel is supported by his community and still carries himself in pride creates the perfect character for this story. It’s the type of character that has all too much to give when a young boy like Idrissa comes into his life from the way he has been helped from his community. His neighbors have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with him, something that allows the comedy of director Aki Kaurismäki to breath in tasteful doses.

When a container in a shipping yard is found on a rainy night in the port of Le Havre, the contents are searched the next morning. With it becoming unknown if anyone has survived being in the container from lack of air and food, they open it up and there is a large body of people who are stunned and humbled from the Red Cross aid. This container brings on an investigation from a possible Al-Qaeda connection, an interesting plot twist indeed. The path of Idrissa’s escape to London begins after his grandfather nods to his approval of escape and Idrissa manages to get away from the French police. Even with the comedy involved, the reality of refugees and their cruel treatment is ever present through out the film. It’s a very real and honest approach to shedding light to a severe problem. Idrissa finds Marcel Marx preparing to eat lunch by the port and the two, Idrissa still in the thick moggy Le Havre port water, start a conversation that would change both of their lives forever. Their conversation is cut off immediately as French police search the area and investigator Monet (Jean-Pierre Darrousin) interrogates Marcel.

Marcel’s wife, Arletty Marx (Kati Outinen), is an element of the film that really brings out the romanticism and hope that resonates so well with main character Marcel Marx. After falling ill, her contributions to the film show the wavering confidence Marcel interjects into the dynamic of his relationships with all of the other main characters.  It is this fellowship in her neighborhood that allows Marcel to hide Idrissa from being deported by French police. The audience becomes so attached to young Idrissa and his mission to find his mother that contemplation on what you would do in Marcel’s situation is inevitable. No matter how unlikely or unpractical a situation can be in Le Havre, director Aki Kaurismäki has an unparalleled way of making you ask yourself some deep questions and feel downright responsible for good to come of this situation. I can’t tell you how much I love films that bring me in like this.

The romantic relationship with Marcel and his wife Arletty plays on the past eras of film in a way that can trap you inside the nostalgia of your own past, regardless of your age. From the setting of their home and all of the vintage items that are so common place to their characters, the director and cast nailed there parts to the t with showing the parallel worlds of old standards fading in a technologically advancing time. There are many moments where all the main characters present such an authentic captured state of the pre-war era films that when something modern dives back into the film, you are instantly presented with that common phrase, “Oh yeah…”.  La Moderne, the local spot that is owned by Claire (Elina Salo) and where Marcel drinks wine, is a portal into the past just as much as what has been mentioned. La Moderne displays a vintage and beautiful jukebox with music from the Edith Piaf era always playing, something I’d love to add to my home.

Marcel’s personality in this movie is light hearted and at times raw, especially the moment when he tells young Idrissa after finding him outside and telling him not to go outside, “no wonder they put you on the ship”. This is the event that ultimately tips police off to the whereabouts of Idrissa and his connection with Marcel. From this point on, the logistics and likeyhood becomes less with Idrissa’s safe travel to London. The epic schemes Marcel and all of his friends pull off to get Idrissa to London and his family is something that we should all hold onto and believe in, regardless of the current world that faces us daily.

This is the type of film that makes me want to travel to the smaller towns of Europe and find these small havens of the past; locations in the world where the timeless and beautiful eloquence of culture outshines the savage state of greed that dominates the world. In an interview with Christine Masson, director Aki Kaurismäki had the following to say about how he picked the location for this film. “Basically the story could happen in any European country, except maybe the Vatican, or then especially there. The most logical places would of course have been Greece, Italy Spain because they carry the heaviest pressure caused by the problem (to say it mildly). Anyhow I drove through the whole seafront from Genoa to Holland and found what I wanted from the city of blues and soul and rock ‘n’ roll, Le Havre”. Location scouting can make or break a film and the selection of Le Havre was perfect for the dynamic use of different genre and era settings all clashed into the films script. In an interview with David Fear of Time Out New York, Aki revealed that he wrote the script in only ten days after selecting Le Havrne for the location of his new film idea. When told that was quick from David, he replied with laughs, “Normally it only takes a weekend. I’m getting old.” Directing film is a whole other world and Aki is gaining ranks among the most prolific in his genres.

One of the most interesting additions to this film is the inclusion of Little Bob (Roberto Piazza). Little Bob formed the new wave rock group Little Bob Story in 1971 in the small city of Le Havre. The bands story in the ranks of the new wave punk bands that were touring the UK and Europe are legendary. The fact that director Aki Kaurismäki included Little Bob into this films wacky twist that occurs to help young Idrissa is fitting to say the least.

93 minutes in length, the first 25 minutes or so dedicates itself to laying out the rich dynamics of how everyone’s lives will intertwine. Inspector Monet’s character creates immediate love and compassion in Marcel’s heart for Idrissa as his assignment to find the young boy creates a tension between the two that pulls you just as much as any other element of the movie. The addition of Arletty Marx’s medical condition causes the community around him to reach out and turns the tables from the grocer and Yvette in a way that is optimistic indeed. Most people these days don’t even know the people that live next to them, let alone have the chance to rely on these same neighbors. All of these delicate and complex relationships flourish after the characters are in place and everyone’s role is clearly signified. This film has a beautiful sequence of events and makes the view so fluid that time doesn’t become a factor. It really plays into that side of you that doesn’t want a film to end. Shot in a medium that reflects the films it pays homage and attributes influence to, Le Havre is already a masterpiece in its own right.

– By Erik Otis

Le Havre
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki


by Aki Kaurismäki

The European cinema has not much addressed the continuously worsening financial, political, and above all, moral crisis that has lead to the ever-unsolved question of refugees; refugees trying to find their way into the EU from abroad, and their irregular, often substandard treatment.
I have no answer to this problem, but I still wanted to deal with this matter in this anyhow unrealistic film.

For screenings across the United States starting October 21, 2011 in New York City and Los Angeles, check out the full list below. Please note, theaters may extend runs past the dates listed.

All stills in this article are from photographer Marja-Leena Hukkanen ©Sputnik Oy. Click on the link below to view a set of 20 pictures from the film Le Havre.

On the left Chang (actor: Quoc Dunc Ngyen) , on the right Marcel Marx (actor: André Wilms)

left Marcel Marx (André Wilms), right Monet ( Jean-Pierre Darroussin)

Idrissa (Blondin Miguel)

left Marcel Marx (André Wilms), right Idrissa ( Blondin Miguel)

Arletty (Kati Outinen)

Marcel Marx (André Wilms)

Idrissa (Blondin Miguel)

Idrissa (Blondin Miguel)

left Monet ( Jean-Pierre Darroussin), right Marcel Marx (André Wilms)

Marcel Marx (André Wilms), Yvette( Evelyne Didi)

Épouse Épicier (Valérien Caron), right Monet ( Jean-Pierre Darroussin)

eft Chang ( Quoc Dunc Ngyen) , right Marcel Marx (André Wilms)

left Marcel Marx (André Wilms), right Claire ( Elina Salo)

Monet ( Jean-Pierre Darroussin)

Marcel Marx (André Wilms)

left Marcel Marx (André Wilms), right Arletty( Kati Outinen)

right Arletty( Kati Outinen), Yvette( Evelyne Didi), right Claire ( Elina Salo)

left Doctor Becker ( Pierre Étaix), right Arletty( Kati Outinen)

Marcel Marx (André Wilms), Idrissa ( Blondin Miguel), Laika (Dog)

left Idrissa ( Blondin Miguel), right, Marcel Marx (André Wilms)

One Response to “Le Havre from director Aki Kaurismäki”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Le Havre was easily one of our favorite film releases of last year and the release of the film in DVD and Blu-ray format with the prestigious Criterion Collection put a big smile on my face. This is one film I can guarantee anyone can appreciate. Film making at its most pure and masterful state. Read our full review of the film HERE. […]

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