Le Havre certainly impressed many critics when it screened at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The movie even picked up the Fipresci award for Best In Competition Film at the Festival. When you watch the film you realise exactly why Le Havre won. The story is an honest, sentimental portrayal for humanity’s understanding potential; a respectful observation of refugeeism which avoids overt political viewpoints. At the same time the film is a visually gratifying Francophilian love letter; a nostalgic homage to France which relishes and is immersed in the culture: the sounds, the sights, the tastes and the smells. In short, Le Havre is wonderful.
Marcel Marx (André Wilms) is a resident of Le Havre, living his day-to-day life as a shoe-shiner. He exists in a fairly bohemian world: as a former author he is equally well known to locals for his work and his inability to pay his bills. With no worries, he meanders along in his life quite happily, propping up his favourite corner bar, necking back a glass of white wine, before heading home to his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen), a lady with some very idiosyncratic traits. All seems well until Arletty falls seriously ill and is taken to hospital with little hope of recovery. At the same time Marcel runs into an African immigrant, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) on the run from French authorities. Marcel takes it upon himself to help the boy, beginning a self propelled mission to rally together local residents for a makeshift concert, raising the money he needs to send Idrissa on his way and avoiding the authorities in the process.
Le Havre is a film which focuses on the positives of life and people, rather than wallowing in what could very easily be heavy political subtext. The film opens with Marcel Marx (André Wilms) shining the shoes of a seemingly cruel, introverted character. When the man moodily snaps at Marcel and stomps off, he is run over: a message that in the context of this film cruelty and inhuman behavior is not rewarded. In fact, Le Havre is a movie filled with optimism, of society’s unification through the good and worthy actions of a whole neighbourhood. At the heart of the story is the country’s stance on Refugeeism. Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) is hunted by authorities; he is a victim of political dehumanization, referred to as the living dead. At one point he is almost shot for his new social position in France. However, this fleeting glimpse of cruelty is overshadowed by an overt sense of goodwill and understanding from almost every character in the movie, as well as the camera.
André Wilms’s Marcel is an extremely affable fellow, breezing his way through days unaware and seemingly unconcerned with what life throws at him. His deadpan wit and social commentary possess a quirky humour which at times borders on whimsical. He surrounds himself with equally affable characters, who are not larger-than-life in the strictest sense of the world, but whose presence lifts your spirits nonetheless.
The visual feast that is director Aki Kaurismaki’s filming style adds even more to the viewers experience. Each shot drips in glorious Technicolor, giving the film an amazing neo-classical look; it’s wonderful to watch. But to go even further, the director’s scenes are lovingly coated in French culture. Watching the film is akin to taking a stroll down a Gallic street; from the typical French bar with its denizens from all walks of life, to the enchanting accordion soundtrack that accompanies the story, Frenchness permeates from the screen with an overwhelming charm. Whilst Woody Allen’s recent Midnight in Paris can be seen as a love letter to the city of Paris, Le Havre is simply a love letter to the French “joie de vivre;” it is a celebration of life and a triumph.
Le Havre is released in cinemas and on Curzon on Demand from today, April 6.