Film Review : Le Havre (2011)

Le Havre (Future Film Distribution; 2011)

“Charming French drama”

By Matthew Law:

This charming French drama by Aki Kaurismaki stars André Wilms as a down on his luck shoe shiner called Marcel, who rescues an illegal immigrant boy from deportation, calling into question his own life and priorities in the process.

Marcel’s life has not gone the way he wished it to. He was a bohemian and an aspiring author in his youth, but over time he gave up on his dreams, and became a shoe shiner, so as to provide for his wife, Arletty, and his dog, Laika. The banality of Marcel’s life is shaken when he comes across a young immigrant named Idrissa, thus beginning a journey in which he must hide the boy from frantic police and possible informers.

This is a stunning film in every way. The cinematography is beautiful, set against the French coast and a variety of 1940’s style architecture.

The editing is equally wonderful, with its brilliance clear from the first scene. The editing style is quite similar to that used in the works of Jean-Luc Godard, whilst also having a freshness that complements the methods used in 21st century film making.

The pacing of the picture is slow, but this is a deliberate method of heightening the sense

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that Idrissa has been hiding for a long time, while also increasing the tension in the French police’s search to find him.

Wilms’ performance is strong and inspiring. He acts in such a calm manner that the desperation of the character is hidden fantastically. Despite the wonderful characters and the fine acting behind them, I would have to say that there is a serious lack of character development. For a film with three main characters, we only find out a short history of Marcel, and his problems and issues are only discovered if you pay a lot of attention throughout. Nothing is made clear. Other characters are left undeveloped, and most would not be missed if left out entirely from the picture.

Underneath the production and the straightforward storyline though, is a pretty obvious criticism of modern France’s immigration policies. The hunt for one young immigrant is of major importance to the police, but not to local people who actually want to protect the boy. The police are also heavy handed throughout, and are clearly identified as the antagonists from the beginning.

Le Havre is out on DVD now.

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