Bohemian Rhapsody, by Scott Nye
Aki Kaurismäki has taken an interesting tact with Le Havre. In telling a story involving refugees, poverty, and terminal disease, he brings as little conflict to bear as possible, focusing instead on the importance of friendship, community, and, as Monty Python once sang, looking on the bright side of life. The result isn’t totally successful – it runs out of steam as it tries to create a third act climax that feels out of place in an otherwise fairly casual movie – but it’s warm and optimistic and absolutely gorgeous.
André Wilms plays Marcel Marx, an elderly man who makes a meager living giving shoeshines on the street. One day, while eating lunch, he notices a young black boy emerging from the water, but a police officer approaches before he can inquire further. One thing leads to another, and before long, he’s arranging to have the boy, Idrissa, transported to London to reunite him with his mother. Kaurismäki, despite portraying bureaucracy in a fairly amusing light, isn’t making an overtly political statement with any of this, nor is this some story about how this experience redeems Marcel or anything like that. Marcel seems to have led a pretty remarkable, transgressive life already – noting his time as a bohemian and eventually failed author – and makes a regular habit of ducking authority, even if it’s something as simple as shrugging off a grocer’s bill.
All of Marcel’s friends – including those very grocers – have this same sort of casual attitude towards authority, immediately offering whatever assistance they can in, essential, aiding and abetting a fugitive. And in the character of the inspector, even authority seems to have a fairly casual attitude towards authority. Everyone we get to know in this film will always do the right thing, or at least try to, which is encouraging in its own way, but also a little trite.
That’s to say nothing of the film’s multiple leaps in logic. Early on, Marcel warns Idrissa and anyone watching over him that he is not to go out of the house for any reason. Naturally, he does, which is fine, because it exposes the audience and Idrissa himself to the potential threat. So why can Marcel send him on an errand late in the film without concern? This is hardly the only time the film introduces huge stakes and then totally subverts them, but this doesn’t have the element of magic the later instance will.
On the whole, though, it’s a bit of a shrug. It has some very funny instances, and I want to restate that the cinematography is amazing. I was positively tickled that Kaurismäki so thoroughly embraced theatrical lighting, right down to making massive changes in the middle of a shot for emphasis. The first two-thirds or so is positively delightful. But then it sort of fades, sagging under the weight of its own whimsy, and right around the point the gang puts on a concert to raise the money they need, it staggers and never quite recovers and sticks the landing. If you are going to see it, you’d be well served to make the effort to see it in theaters – it opens today in New York and Los Angeles, and will roll out across the country before the year is up.