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(Read the full review at http://nickplusmovies.blogspot.com)
I started off my experience at this year's Toronto International Film Festival with Aki Kaurismäki's "Le Havre", a rather obscure, small production that was competing for the Palme d'Or at Cannes (it was Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" that was the big winner). The question is: Did I start off on the right foot? Read on to find out...
"Le Havre" centers on an elderly, working-class shoe shiner named Marcel Marx (played by André Wilms), living with his loving wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) in the French port city of... Le Havre. Although his profession only leaves him with enough money to get by, he never gives up hope and always finds great joy and warmth in all the people in his life-- be it his friendly, selfless, next-door neighbor or the kind owner of the local bar. Marcel's life takes a bit of a turn when he must send his ill wife to the hospital, hoping she will get better soon. But that's not it-- soon after, when he finds himself alone, eating a sandwich at the harbor, he discovers a young African boy named Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) hiding in the water. Marcel befriends him and learns that he had been hiding with many other illegal immigrants in a shipping container, with hopes of arriving in London to meet up with his aunt. The old man voluntarily goes out of his way to keep him away from authorities and completely out of sight, but soon, this situation quickly transforms into a cat-and-mouse game, lead by the persistent, intimidating, wolf- like police inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin).
With its simplistic plot, clearly defined characters, and inviting setting, this film has all the qualities and characteristics of a great short film-- if you don't count its feature-length runtime. Is this a bad thing? Hardly! I find that this makes the film all the more absorbing and enjoyable, though slow in progression at times and thus able to make your average modern-day moviegoer lose interest. But I still believe that sometimes, it's nice to just sit down and follow a naturally flowing, straightforward story, when most of the movies you see today are flashy and overly stimulating to the point where they bore you. "Le Havre" is something refreshingly different, for a change.
Rarely do films combine comedy with drama in such a natural, uncontrived way. With this film, Aki Kaurismäki proves to be one of the few working directors able to pull off a mixture of dark, ironic, and deadpan humor while maintaining the same upbeat, cheerful, and optimistic tone throughout the entire film. A great example of this guy's exemplary sense of humor is the opening scene of the film, where we see Marcel going around with his shoe shining materials, looking for a paying customer. He finally lucks out when he approaches a suspicious looking type holding a suitcase in his hand. As he shines this man's shoes, we see two other mysterious figures watching from a distance. It's clear that something's up. When Marcel finishes his job, the man pays him and quickly tries to escape. But it's too late; we hear gunshots, a tire squeal, and a scream as the camera lingers on Marcel, whose facial expression remains pleasant. He simply says: "Luckily he had time to pay.". Of course, since it's more of a visual gag, it's much funnier when you see it for yourself. Having said that, there's no denying that this film has very smart comedic elements.
What I love just as much-- if not, more-- about this little film is how authentic and down-to-earth the characters are in their interactions. Every scene is made into such an accurate portrait of life thanks to all of the real, human performances from the entire cast of lesser-known actors. The only thing that threw me off was how the couple of Finnish actors in the film let their accents slip through as they were speaking French. But this would be barely noticeable for those of you who don't speak either one of these languages.
Although this film is Finnish, it's obvious that it's shot on location in France. I was breathless as I got to admire the beauty of the ocean and the quaint coziness of the old city buildings. Sadly, this is the closest I've ever gotten to visiting France! No wonder these sights took me away.
In sum, Aki Kaurismäki's "Le Havre" is a simple, human tale that remains light and pleasant while brushing on topics of illegal immigration and the illness of a loved-one. It's a soulful film that mixes smart humor with true emotion, without ever feeling artificial. I recommend looking for this hidden gem. You might just like it.
The natural flowing of this simple movie, where no excesses are to be noticed ,may make one judge it as a weird movie, where something actually happens, but does seem to affect the lives of the characters. This is not properly true. Indeed, this is a simple movie, with no plot twists, no complications, but here does it lie its magic. It's a movie where "normal", common people simply accept their lives for what they are, which does not mean in a passive way, on the contrary they prove morally resilient people, who relate one another in an authentic way, behave as honest and fair people (so difficult to find people like these nowadays, that they look so strange!) they face bad things with dignity, and good things with no easy enthusiasm. Its best quality lies in the perfect and never clashing blend between hard facts (the hardships of immigrants, the theme of illness) and poetry, with a human faith in miracles which never sounds ridiculous or mystical: miracles happen simply because sometimes they may happen, and there's not even much to wonder at. There's such a placid attitude shown by the characters, very well interpreted by a good cast, that if the aim was to convey a calm and resilient acceptance of life, with its weird mixture of hardness and poetry, well, the aim has been successfully accomplished.
This is a sweet, lightly intoxicating thing like a small glass of
calvados under the wisteria in the evening. Kaurismaki has aged and his
outcast and misfit characters aged with him, the quirks mellowed, the
ferocious smoking toned down, the lines in the sometimes quietly
astonished stone faces deeper, wearier, but imbued with almost ascetic
Some viewers have complained, why trivialize an actual problem in the manner of a fairy tale? A fair complaint for a problem perhaps more pressing than ever, especially in France and especially these days, with Sarkozi's desperate attempt to shore up votes for what looks like near-certain defeat in the upcoming elections by reverting to reactionary rhetorics from the far-right.
No, I believe the fairy-tale is the point. The idyllic neighborhood. The mannered caricatures of French people, with even the poorest having the time and fine sense of taste to leisurely enjoy their freshly baked baguette or glass of wine. The miraculous turn of events, explicitly acknowledged in the finale where kindness of this world is so overwhelming it even cures sickness. How could anyone miss this?
But a certain emptiness has always been of the essence for Kaurismaki, deliberate, designed emptiness.
The world is always flat to that effect, two-dimensional. The characters lack any conventional depth to speak of and do not really grow or learn lessons. By contrast, the plots of the films often exhibit a life of spontaneous motion, the objectives intentionally abstract, journeys across town, to America, in search of coffee and cigarettes. Motion for the sheer musical capacity of life to fill the quiet, the room in the heart to do so.
So it is always a variation of transient worlds centered in the stillness of the present moment that Kaurismaki has studied and consistently delivered. What is so remarkable is that he achieves this without any layering whatsoever, as a single flow.
This is his most Japanese film to date, even more concentrated flow than usual. Which is to say artificial nature that does not attempt to pass for the real thing but instead is empty space cultivated for beauty, a road-map for inner heart.
(I saw this together with the recent viral video KONY2012 and the contrast was amazing: that one, shameless artifice passing as nature, as truth, the real thing, contriving to motivate awareness several years after the fact and by selling merchandise, but was in truth both misinformed and morally dubious and even perhaps unwittingly manipulated agitprop in the service of shady foreign policy, while this one is simple, crisp, gracefully moral work, that does create awareness without any agendas.)
So it is very much the point that no one in the film is shown to wallow in misery, and most of the characters we meet would have plenty of reason to do so. Instead they enjoy this drink or meal together, whatever is at hand. And act with no complaint in the present moment to do what needs to be done. There is no meddlesome thought or proud ego to cloud the mind from the day's work, be it polishing shoes or helping out an immigrant kid.
This is the beauty of the thing: an idyll embedded with the purity of soul that gives rise to it and clear images only possible because of this cloudless eye.
The parting image is of a blossomed cherry tree gently rocking in the breeze, among the most traditionally Japanese images.
It encapsulates motion in stillness. The song of Zen.
Great. Very stylistic in its cinematography and lighting. Condensed and
to the bone in its storytelling and editing.
Nice and subtle humour on the background of a highly contemporary story about our unbalanced globe, the hope for freedom and the power of human compassion.
I Truly enjoyed watching a film in which every scene is so carefully and skillfully arranged. This is Kaurismäki at his best working with a great cast and a script stripped of any unnecessary dialogue. The colors and the settings are stunning. There's always a risk that movies like this would come across as to polished or constructed, but from my point of view Kaurismäki strikes a great balance and makes sure that every image adds layers and details to the story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To my great pleasure, I have just seen this film. So, my impression and
positive feelings, which I got from the movie, haven't vanished yet.
To describe it, well, I couldn't say this film has a very deep meaning, I couldn't say it offers some philosophic ideas to contemplate, I couldn't even say it's logic in every way. As a matter of fact, the film could be accused of being just an empty, trendy imitation of the past. A past, which has actually never existed, and which is just an unreal image of our imagination, created by idealizing times which have already gone. But, to my great surprise, I still enjoy watching it. It's because I enjoy seeing such nice imitation, such nice image of life, which consists of a lot of idealism, which is idyllic and even Utopian. I bet many people miss idealism in their lives and this film just gives them what they want. As it is known, the concept of every movie is to imitate the reality, even create a new reality, which consists of things which we lack in our real life. It's just like cinema genius Alfred Hitchcock said long time ago: "the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake". So this stands for the fact the film is good.
Being more certain, I like Le havre", because it's nice to watch it. Every set is selected precisely. Voices of actors sound pleasantly. Everything is full of harmony in this film: characters communicate often, they help each other when troubles come in the movie. Marcel's wife does a lot for her husband, she doesn't even tell him she's dying (in order to protect him from suffering). Marcel does a lot for love too. He helps immigrant boy to find his origin. Every resident of Le havre town stand together for the boy, they stand for love, for ideal and they manage to defeat the troubles, the threats which come from outside world. Of course, they do this, they show their idealism not too much, the film is not too sugary'. The mechanism is quite opposite, it's something like less is more": less feelings, showed exactly in the right time are less banal, more real, more influential.
Some people may laugh, find humor in some episodes of the film, some, especially those who are insensitive may find Le havre" vast. Those who tend to conceal their feelings, may even hate the film. But it's just as they say you love it, you hate it it's the same, you simply can't manage without it. So that's why the film is suitable for a very wide range of people I guarantee everyone would be affected by it one way or another.
Le Havre is a film from Finland in French with English subtitles. The film focuses on a middle aged man named Marcel, who makes a living going around town and working as a shoe shiner. Business is not always great and at home Marcel lives a very simple life with his much adored wife, Arletty. One day a group of refugees are found in town and one of them, a young boy named, Idrissa escapes and is wanted by the local chief inspector and the police. Marcel one day stumbles across the boy and shows kindness to him and the next thing he knows, Idrissa shows up at his home. The rest of the story is about how out of his way, Marcel will go to hide and protect the boy from the police and to find a way to get him back with his family. Le Havre is a great film on several different levels. The acting here from the whole cast is all very good here and just their facial expressions and deadpan looks say a lot even when there is nothing in particular to be said. They convey the feelings and thoughts and emotions of their characters perfectly. The direction and writing of this film by Aki Kaurismaki is also a real delight here. He provides us with some very interesting characters and a good story to use and put them to work in. I also found that the film had just the right blend of humour and drama. Ultimately this is a feel good film and I think almost anybody who watches it will leave feeling very happy and joyful. The story and events in the film are simple enough and nothing is done to extravagance, but I think what really got me about the whole thing was the kindness not only Marcel, but his friends and neighbours, show to Idrissa, knowing that if they are caught, they too could be in a lot of trouble. It was really refreshing to see these characters live their simple yet happy lives and find happiness in things we take for granted and how when one needs help, they will be the first ones there to lend a hand and offer support. They work together well as a community and more than that they are great friends and neighbours who look out for each other. That was what I really thought got me about Le Havre, the basic message of the kindness of strangers and being the good Samaritan and helping out your fellow man. The film I might add is also quite a good looking film and I really admired it's cinematography. At one time it shows buildings and homes in bright primary colours and then goes to show us bleak and older homes that are a bit run down and much more simple. The colour scheme and the effect of this further added to my appreciation of the film and how these characters live. The cinematography actually reminded me of the works of French cinematographer Raoul Coutard, whose work I came to know and love in Jean-Luc Godard's films such as Contempt (which looks absolutely exquisite on it's Blu Ray release), but now back to Le Havre. This is a film where much joy and laughter can be had, but also gives us hope for each other and the human race. The film may be a little unrealistic in that regard of showing the goodness in people, but any film that has that as it's central message and gives us something to not only think about, but to feel good about after is a winner in my books. It may even get you to re-evaluate your own attitudes and perspectives on things, so keep an open mind while watching. This is one of the most entertaining and inspiring films of 2011 and also one of the best.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's all so familiar: The shabby, old worn interiors, the far from
picturesque scenery, those slightly patina-covers images with their
dirty soft colors, the slowness, those long shots which are hardly more
than stills, even the hairdos. Not only do Aki Kaurismäki's films have
a very distinctive look and feel, they all have this quality of
watching something that is not quite there. Nostalgia is the wrong
word, but his films and more so his characters have fallen out of time.
They are creatures of the past, but the present they end up in is not
quite the present we know either. There is a timeless quality or rather
a different sense of time in the slow movements, the museum-like
atmosphere, the silence. More often than not Kaurismäki's characters
are not exactly talkers. So it is no surprise that Le Havre looks a lot
like Helsinki but there sure is a lot more talking going on.
At the end of the day, Le Havre both is and is not a typical Kaurismäki. It is his most upbeat and optimistic film to date. Gone is most of his trademark melancholia, the despair many of his protagonists have to fight and sometimes succumb to. On the other hand, his films have never been as cynical, hopeless or pessimistic as the occasional viewer may think. On the contrary, underlying his work has always been a basic belief in the goodness of humankind - at least the underprivileged part of it, those on the outskirts of society. And there always has been a fairy-tale quality in many of his films. Le Havre can be regarded as the culmination of both: a truly optimistic fairy-tale, a story about goodness which well may be too good to be true. But maybe it is not.
André Wilms reprises his role from Kaurismäki's 1992 film La Vie de Bohème, however, Marcel, the unsuccessful writer, has turned into a shoe cleaner - a profession that belongs to a different time, too. One day he finds an African boy who escaped when the police found the container in which he and dozens of others tried to get to London. He takes him in and eventually gets him to London. Meanwhile, Marcel's wife (the wonderfully dignified sad angel Kati Outinen) is diagnosed with a fatal sickness which she refuses to tell Marcel about. Don't be surprised though, if a miracle is in the making here, too.
This may be a run-down, shabby world but it is inhabited by the best kind of people one could imagine. And they're not flat characters, but full-blooded sinners with exceptionally good hearts. This is, after all, a fairy tale with a fairy tale ending but it is also more - a celebration of the human spirit, of goodness in the face of adversity, a beautiful vision of what the world could be if we all tried a little harder to do the right thing.
At the same time, Kaurismäki never loses sight of the evil humans do to each other. TV excerpts and a relentless police hunt highlight the plights of immigrants in today's France and elsewhere. if there is a message here it is that each of us must start in their own lives to do good, only then do we have a chance to make this place we call earth a little better. It is a simple message but told like this it is hard to escape its grip. And who ever said that answers cannot be simple sometimes?
Kaurismäki creates beautiful as well as memorable images, mostly stills such as the one in the harbour with the boy in the front and Marcel in the background. An image of longing and also of togetherness. The most intense scene occurs when the container is opened and the camera goes from face to face. All turns quiet, a choking silence that is hardly bearable. And eyes who tell stories that could fill books.
Not all is dead serious though, there is a playful element to this film. Kaurismäki starts it with a wonderfully cliché noir scene and ends it in n equally cheesy melodrama. Don't take me too seriously, we might hear him say, I'm just throwing some ideas at you. Catch them if you like.
These days it seems that French films predominantly fit into one of two
categories: Smug, over long and preachy, such as Rust and Bone or
Little White Lies. Or they produce deeply involving but simplistic
stories containing the most genuine heartfelt emotion such as Amour (in
French, therefore French) or The Kid with a Bike. I am happy to say
that Le Havre falls in the latter group. In fact the story here is one
of pure simplicity and the tone of the film contains nothing but
genuine optimism towards the theme of human compassion. That is it,
this film has no ulterior motive or no gimmicks, and it is a very
simply and extremely involving story based around that one simple
theme. However, this film is not just a tribute to human compassion,
but contained within it are tributes to the history of cinema that are
quite simply a joy to experience. When I say that, the use of music as
well the way certain scenes are lit pay a respectful tribute to films
of the 40s and 50s throughout the narrative.
This is not to say that this film is not without its realism, Marx and his neighbours all live a humble life bordering on poverty. The plight of Idrissa is unenviable and there is an honest depiction of a refugee camp just outside Calais. However, the theme of Le Havre is not that life is simply good, that would be naive. It is how these characters deal with life and the situations that it presents. Of course it would be so easy to fall into to the trap of patronising and borderline preachy cliché here, but this never happens due to the genuine feeling of honesty depicted throughout the narrative. Every character is presented very honestly with all their flaws quite clear to see, but it is their ability for natural compassion that drives the narrative forward. By the time Le Havre reaches its very satisfying conclusion where there are no loose ends, it is difficult not to feel that not only have you been entertained, but also enlightened.
In 1992, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki directed LA VIE DE BOHEME,
where he transplanted to Paris for a story of impoverished, failed
artists on the cusp of society. A funny, sad film about art, love, and
loss. Nearly twenty years later, Kaurismaki returns to France in LE
HAVRE; while some of the humor remains, its story of the impoverished
and dispossessed is even more affecting.
LA VIE... showed a painterly visual sense, all the more amazing that it was filmed in black and white. LE HAVRE boasts an equally striking visual sense, with scenes that seem to glow. That said, other elements of the production are less convincing - and at times. almost embarrassing. (For example, a group of black refugees are locked in a container crate for almost a week; when it's opened, no one's hungry or even concerned, and several are freshly shaved.)
LE HAVRE sets up the camera in a stationary spot - much like an old silent - giving the film a real resonance. But this affection for older filmmaking will be familiar for Kaurismaki fans; his silent, black and white JUHA uses the same minimalistic approach, with good results.
If you're willing to forgive certain production details and the dependence on melodrama, LE HAVRE is a feel-good story of how those of modest means can help those in desperate straits. (LE HAVRE itself was directed under low budget.) The film's humanism is its saving grace. While the filmmaking is occasionally awkward, there's still a lot to be admired here.
Protagonist is Marcel Marx, A Shoeshiner, who makes a peaceful living
with his wife Arletty and a dog Laika in city of Le Havre. He
incidentally meets an African boy, Idrissa, who is being sought by
French authorities as illegal immigrant. Marcel opens his doors to the
boy and helps him make his way to join his mother across the water in
Despite the complication of Arletty's terminal illness, about which Marcel is not aware, the snooping of grim-faced inspector Monet, and the machinations of the neighborhood snitch, with the help of neighbors and friends that Marcel was deeply in debt to forgive everything for Idrissa, Marcel tries to help the boy.
Kudos to Aki Kaurismäki, the director of Le Havre, for his directorial talent he has exhibited in this movie. No loose ends, characterization and usage of every character is excellent and has kept it very simple by all means.
Once in while you get to watch such an optimistic film that shows love, respect and tolerance for one another in a very simple and practical manner.
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