Le Havre

COMIC DRAMA; 1hr 33min (French with subtitles)

STARRING: André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel

La vie française: from left, Wilms and Miguel

With the collectedness of expertise, Finnish film-maker Aki Kaurismäki (The Man Without a Past ) outlines the daily routines of Le Havre shoeshine man Marcel Marx (Wilms). Marcel’s needs are humble: a lunchtime sandwich by the water and an aperitif (or two) before a dinner prepared by his caring wife, Arletty (Kaurismaki perennial Outinen), and he’s a happy man. But simplicity can be impermanent. For one thing, Arletty is hospitalised. And then there’s Idrissa (Miguel), a young African refugee who Marcel and select neighbours are shielding from the law (Billy Bob Thornton look-alike Darroussin is a police inspector who could be more simpatico than he appears).


With Kaurismäki, each performance has the deliberate economy of grace. Contemplation is his art form, whether it be Marcel’s sombre face as he sits on a bus, the light cast by a streetlamp, the symmetry of a shot or Arletty’s resignation to pain. (“Not in my neighbourhood,” she says when a doctor assures her that miracles do happen.) Le Havre covers the vast thematic expanse of love, forbearance, generosity, courage and sacrifice with such ease of motion it scarcely seems to be moving at all.