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DVD: Le Havre | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Le Havre

DVD: Le Havre

Reality and the hyper-real combine in Aki Kaurismäki’s tribute to tolerance, redemption and goodness

Le Havre: Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) and his moody friend take a turn at Marcel Marx's shoe shine stand

You’d have to have a heart of coal not to be moved by Aki Kaurismäki’s celebration of tolerance, redemption and the goodness that people can do. Le Havre isn’t quite It a Wonderful Life, but it’s not far short. The sensitivity with which the Finnish – now resident in France – director brings together unlikely elements makes him more than a humanist and takes him further into the political than any of his previous films.

Le Havre DVDLe Havre is the story of shoe-shine man Marcel Marx (an impressively ragged but still noble André Wilms). He scrapes a living in Le Havre, where the real focus of his life is Arletty, his wife (the wonderful Kati Outinen, named here after the French singer/actress). A freight container arriving at the dock turns out to have contained illegal immigrants from Africa. The police snare them but one, a boy, escapes and comes into Marx’s orbit. Arletty has become ill and is in hospital. Marx takes the boy in and gives him sanctuary. As Idrissa, Blondin Miguel shines. The voyage through this world takes in the search for Idrissa’s family and the support network of those local and close to Marx (including, eventually, the police).

What prevents Le Havre from being the mawk-fest it could have been (orphan boy get rescued or some such) with such a minimum of actual substance is the reality brought to something so clearly hyper-real. Colours and lighting are just beyond the edge of the normal. The matter of fact tone throughout is recognisably Kaurismäki’s, but what could be a fairy tale or an homage to Marcel Carné (specifically the Le Havre-filmed Le Quai des Brumes) is grounded by the day-to-day. Equally recognisable are a raft of Kaurismäkian elements. He has filmed in French before with 1992’s La Vie de Bohème, which also featured Wilms as the same character. Outinen is a regular in his films. There is a moody dog too. His beloved rock ‘n’ roll is incorporated: in this case in the form of the (actually) legendary Little Bob Story, who also acts. The present is rooted in and is indivisible from the past.

The extras on the DVD include interviews with Wilms and Jean-Pierre Darroussin (the film's policeman), and the chance to watch Little Bob’s live performances on their own. Le Havre arrived seven hears after his last full-length film, 2006’s Lights in the Dusk. Let’s hope Le Havre has inspired Kaurismäki to make his next film with rather more haste.

Watch Little Bob performing in Le Havre


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