Home Video Hovel- Le Havre, by David Bax
My inexcusable lack of familiarity with the works of Aki Kaurismäki makes me a very bad film buff. Le Havre is a beautiful enough film to make me want to correct my inexperience but it also contains elements that make me wonder if I’ll ever embrace him the way some have.
Le Havre is the story of an old street shoe-shiner named Marcel in the titular Normandy city. Around the same time his beatific and loving wife goes into the hospital for a long stay from which she may or may not return, he meets a fugitive African boy, an illegal immigrant. Perhaps to fill the void of another person in his home or perhaps to prepare himself for the possibility of a future of self-reliance, he takes the boy in and cares for him.
Not only is this the story of a man pouring his compassion into the most ready vessel, it’s also an unapologetically political tale of working class community. The immigrant, despite his illegality, poses no threat to the people of Marcel’s neighborhood. In fact, because they share a common enemy in the governmental powers that want him out by any means necessary, they rally to protect him and get him to where he needs to go. These are people who, early in the film, disapprove of Marcel for being barely more than a beggar. But he is their problem as well as their neighbor. They will stick by him in the face of any external threat. While the pro-immigration theme is quite liberal, the desire for less bureaucratic meddling is arguably very conservative.
Kaurismäki’s painterly eye for composition and color allow his deceptively simple-looking frames to be both as charming as a community theater production and as complex and deep as the greatest works of art. He uses seemingly esoteric methods to commune with the pedestrian, finding transcendent joy in banal pub rock or petty squabbles among neighbors. The most common and fitting word for this sort of approach is “humanism.” He undoubtedly displays that but, as with another recent work from longtime humanists the Dardenne brothers, The Kid with a Bike, I found it teetering into regrettable sentimentality by the end.
Perhaps Le Havre fits better into Kaurismäki’s overall career picture. I look forward to finding out.
Special features include multiple cast and crew interviews as well as concert footage of musician Little Bob, who appears in the film as a version of himself.