Posted by: greercn | April 24, 2012

Le Havre

French movies really deliver a great deal of depth and plot.  The last few years have produced a Golden Age of quirky characters and of new ways of looking at the world.

“Le Havre” provided the most fun, laughter and enjoyment of any film I have seen this year. It’s pure pleasure and great entertainment.

Our hero is a poor shoe shiner who lives with his wife in Le Havre, a port town in Normandy. He takes responsibility for a young African refugee.

It’s a tale of dispossession and escape that has a big warm heart and a real feeling of deep humanism.

The ocean, port area, basic housing and poverty of many of the French port towns are used very efffectively by the camera. It’s actually refreshing to watch a movie about ordinary people in extraordinary situations during which you believe the scenes in restaurants, bars and concerts.

Aki Kaurismaki is Finnish and he directs, writes and produces. Essentially, this is a cinema verite movie with wonderful touches of whimsy. It maintains a real point of view of being inside the action, while never losing its focus on its outsider characters.

There are many wonderful performances. French veteran actors Andre Wilms in the lead and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, as a policeman, are both fantastic.

Finnish actress and theatre professor Kati Outinen plays Arletty, the ill wife of our hero, with a strange accent that emphasises the plot lines about being foreign and being French-born.

Newcomer Blondin Miguel is sensational as Idrissa, making both his desire to reach his mother in England and his own personality very endearing.

Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Quoc Dung Nguyen and Little Bob all play vital parts in the best ensemble piece I have seen this year.

The names of the characters have their own special roles. Marcel Marx is Wilm’s part and his wife is Arletty, named for the iconic French star. The main policeman is called Monet and – another lovely touch – the dog is Laika, which is Russian for “barker” but also the name of the first animal in space.

Nguyen’s character is Chang, which is a rather nice homage to “Tintin in Tibet”. He has an extraordinary moment in explaining his national identity, which adds to the layers of the plot.

The Stratford Picturehouse audience for French movies is always incredibly well-behaved and everyone seemed to just adore it. The guy who had his phone ring left the room.

The subtitles miss key lines, but it’s perfectly accessible for anyone who doesn’t speak French at all. You’ll probably get more out of it if you speak some French.

You will never see a more loveable benefit concert that the one in this film.

See it, see it, see it. It’s on my must buy the DVD list. It’s original, visually, verbally and in its plot. If I see a better movie this year, I will be thrilled.

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