Le havre (Finland-France, 2011)
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
French with English subtitles, 93 min.
Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre is something of a comeback for the Finnish filmmaker. His warmhearted comedy of underdog working-class solidarity is made with a mixed Finnish-French-Senegalese cast in the French port city Le Havre. The film envisions a new, post-communist international—it might have been made for the IWW, if not the occupants of Zuccotti Park. The movie’s pointedly named protagonist Marcel Marx (André Wilms) is a middle-aged shoe-shine boy with a weathered, noble profile, an upstanding wife Arletty (Kaurismäki favorite Kati Outinen), a faithful dog (named Laïka after the pioneering canine cosmonaut), a natural belief in fraternité, and a mystical sense of calling. Marcel’s opportunity for comradely action comes when he meets a young Senegalese boy (Blondin Miguel), who was separated from his stowaway family en route to London and is being sought by the French authorities as an illegal alien.
However downbeat, Kaurismäki’s films have always shown a strong sentimental streak, and Le Havre’s ending is contrived to give the audience exactly what it wants, without irony—and, providing minds are engaged along with feelings, they’ll know it. “The loveliest dream bears like a blemish its difference from reality, the awareness that what it grants is mere illusion,” Theodor Adorno wrote of Kafka’s Amerika—an immigrant saga that Kaurismäki pointedly cites in the movie. So too this evocation of Europe’s refugee problem; Le Havre is utopian precisely because it shows everything as it is not. (The Village Voice, J. Hoberman)