Havre played at Montreal's 2011 Cinémania Film
Wilkinson, who writes for tinymixtapes.com,
gave the film 3.0 out of 4. For
festival ratings, click HERE.
With a forlorn
whine, a shipping container recently brought ashore in the
eponymous port city of Le Havre is forced open. We are greeted
by the wearied, frightened faces of a group of undocumented
African immigrants who have been living inside for days on
end. Time stops for a moment, and director Aki Kaurismäki
lets the monstrous state of affairs sink in. The startled
and awestruck members of the police tactical unit forget themselves.
The soundtrack begins to swell, and pre-adolescent Idrissa
(Blondin Miguel) eventually gets it together enough to brazenly
slip through the hands of the authorities. He escapes before
the requisite level of fear and mistrust seeps back in and
a heavily-armed officer prepares to shoot him, stopped only
by the intervention of Monsieur Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin),
a police investigator.
a group of immigrants from a sub-Saharan country should endure
squalid conditions while in transit to another land is sadly
not all that surprising; if the unvarnished horror comes as
a bolt from the blue in this film, it is only because Kaurismäki
treats most of life’s other ordeals with a lighter hand.
The denizens of Le Havre pride themselves on a stiff-upper-lip
approach to life, occasionally to an absurd extent. Aging
bohemian Marcel Marx (André Wilms) is a prime example
of this unflappable sort. He puts on an air of mild bemusement
against the slings and arrows cruel fate throws at him, up
to and including the increasing obsolescence of his shoe-shining
business, creeping poverty and brazen acts of violence. When
Marcel witnesses a murder in broad daylight, he doesn’t
even seem to be in much of a hurry to scram before the cops
pin it on him. This is the way it is and ever shall be, he
implies with every word and action. And, perhaps, it’s
not so bad?
not long before Marcel’s imperturbable hull is buffeted
by savage gales. His wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen), is stricken
with what will likely be a fatal illness. Marcel is shaken,
even as the more grim details of his wife’s ailment
are kept from him. It is generally agreed that his life will
fall apart without her. During Arletty’s extended hospital
stay, Marcel takes Idrissa under his wing (the two have since
met in a waterlogged scene under a dock), putting himself
at no small risk in order to hide his young friend from the
police and help him get to his intended destination of London.
is easy to identify Marcel as a newly-fledged hero, as many
of his peers do in the film. The townspeople rally to his
cause: where before his outstanding debts made him persona
non grata with the local grocers, food is now offered up to
him and to Idrissa free of charge. Neighbours are more than
willing to take Idrissa in for extended stays. A charity concert
featuring Little Bob is organized at the drop of a hat. The
transformation that Marcel undergoes within himself, though,
is harder to catch. Wilms and Kaurismäki understand that
a man such as Marcel would never consciously allow any exterior
change to be exhibited for the world to see. Yet it is clear
that, minute by minute, his former lassitude is being replaced
by a growing sense of his own purpose.
transformation is largely a religious one. Many of his actions
are cast as those of a minor modern-day saint performing small
miracles and inspiring those around him to do the same. He
often resembles a highly industrious, street smart holy fool,
flouting society and undergoing great sacrifice to bring about
positive change, though barely aware that his actions should
be taken as anything out of the ordinary. He is one of the
most fascinating characters I have seen in any recent film,
due in large part to Wilms’ fiercely intelligent, engaging
portrayal. Wilms makes the case for himself here as a great
lost French film star, with a stately command often calling
to mind the bygone presence of Jean Gabin.
though, offers Marcel up as a small-scale hero for our own
time. Marcel can do only so much for the limited sphere in
which he dwells, though it is surely a great deal, and what
action he does take inspires conscientious and deeply humanitarian
behaviour by those around him. Kaurismäki does not propose
to be able to find a suitable destination for the human cargo
of a rusted shipping container any more than he proposes to
bake enough bread to feed those who would otherwise steal
it. He does have a general prescription in mind, though: a
continent dotted up and down its coasts with Marcel Marxes.
review of Kauriskmäki's
Man Without a Past, HERE.