Le Havre

Went to see Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s latest film Le Havre earlier this week; a heart-warming story of a young African migrant and a shoeshiner in the French port of Le Havre.

Although unfamiliar with Kaurismäki, his film displayed a similar aesthetic to the work of Sylvain Chomet (Belleville Rendez-vous, The Illusionist), despite not sharing that lusty, frantic animated touch of Chomet’s  feature films. Without revealing too much of the storyline, the lead character – Marcel Marx – is a struggling boot polisher and former Parisian bohemian. Upon stumbling across a young escapee from a failed asylum attempt (Idrissa), Marx proceeds to care for the boy. But with the story hitting city-wide headlines, local police detective Monet follows their every move. Melancholic characters (Marx’s partner Arletty, fellow shoeshiner Chang), juicy cinematography and dry comic exchanges make for a fluid feature-length.  Upon discovering Idrissa has a remaining family member in the UK, Marx commits himself to finding the money needed for their reunion. With Arletty in hospital with cancer, Marx puts on a charity gig with Le Havre rock legend Little Bob; stumping up the money for his supposedly safe (but nonetheless illegal) passage across the Atlantic from fishing trawler to fishing trawler. Snopping Monet tips Marx off when it matters; Idrissa is presumed to have made his journey with success, and Arletty overcomes her illness.

Having watched last night’s Newsnight with a short piece on the French election, this film is released at a rather sensitive time. After the shootings in Toulouse; an event exposing the somewhat fractious political state in the country,  Kaurismäki has succeeded in distilling some distinctly universal themes in national politics; namely those of citizenship, borders, and (illegal) asylum. It was of little coincidence Kaurismäki chose the port of Le Havre; depicted as a gritty, working-class city defined through it’s close network of work/drink relationships played out against an equally cinematic/metronomic background of daily coastal life. The sensitive, selfless nature of Kaurismäki’s lead character, Marx, make for a subtle rebuttal to those that recklessly stoke patriotic pride in the face of genuine humanitarian action. The film explores the warming nature of the latter against the mindless naivety of the former.    

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