(2011) director Aki Kaurismäki
viewed: 12/24/2011 at Opera Plaza Cinemas, SF, CA
Quirky Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s newest film, Le Havre, reckons quite a bit with the last of his films that I had seen, his 2002 movie, The Man Without a Past. In The Man Without a Past, we have a mysterious fellow who is beaten up and then loses his memory, winding up living on the outskirts of Helsinki in a shipping container. In Le Havre, we have a kind shoe shine man, living on the outskirts of Le Havre, making ends meet barely, who meets up with a young boy from Gabon, who has arrived in France via a shipping container.
Similar in style as well, the film plays its politics gently but clearly. Images of immigrants being rousted up and imprisoned or deported play on the televisions around the world of shoe shine man, Marcel Marx (André Wilms) and his little cafe and neighborhood. The kind but dutiful inspector, Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), is on the trail of the boy to whom Marx takes “a shine to” (sorry). Marx’s strange, retiring wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen), takes mysteriously and seemingly terminally ill while much of the drama unfolds.
The thing about the people in Kaurismäki’s films is that they are mostly kind, cool, and well-meaning. While one of Marx’s neighbors is trying to get the police after him, the rest of them all work together to raise money to send the boy on to his mother in London. Even the inspector allows for this to happen without bringing on the authorities. It’s not very realistic. The racism and nastiness that is part of France (and probably all parts of Europe) in fears of immigrants hardly exists in Kaurismäki’s worlds.
It’s like he’s created these characters and these situations and just doesn’t want to see anything bad happen to them. So he gives them the happy endings that would not very likely occur in real life, suggesting a cool, kind, progressive world where people actually do sympathize and care for one another. And they are rewarded with happy endings and “miracles”. It’s little surprise when Marx’s wife, Arletty, bounces back miraculously from her terminal illness.
The naïveté of Kaurismäki’s world isn’t pure naïveté, but a knowing and hopeful vision. An off-beat, low-key, but upbeat tale for modern Europe.