Monday, June 03, 2013

"Le Havre": a former writer, living the simple life, shelters an illegal immigrant boy in a French harbor town

I missed “Le Havre” when it played at the West End Cinema in Washington in 2012, and saw it on Netflix—and indeed this was an important indie film.  It was release by Janus, which used to be a well-known label for art films (in the days that Georgetown in DC had the Biograph), and the DVD is owned by the Criterion Collection, which typically has released old classics.
The film, directed by Finnish artist Ari Kaurismaku,  certainly dramatizes Gospel values.  Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms), now in his 60s, has given up his ambition for fame based on self-expression and moved to the French port town of Le Havre, and makes a simple living shining shoes, living childless with a beloved wife Arletty (Kati Outinen).  He has befriended immigrants before, such as Chang (Quoc Dung Nguyen).  His wife suddenly falls ill with an unspecified illness (possibly cancer) and goes to the hospital, leaving Marcel alone, and the doctors discourage his hanging around the hospital  One day, French police discover stowaways from Africa in containers on a ship.  One boy, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) escapes, and Marcel encounters him.  Marcel takes him in, and hides him from a curious inspector (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) who probably needs to become a better human being (he is duly concerned about Al Qaeda).
The film is visible for its simplicity.  Despite the modern historical references (to possible terrorism), there is almost no display of technology.  It shows the underside of French life: the welfare state is not as prosperous as liberals think.  The poorer neighborhoods of the port time look almost as seedy as in the US.  People smoke cigarettes.  Nothing is as nice as it should be.

The indoor scenes were filmed in Finland, according to the credits.  There is an impressionistic orchestral music score by Lindstrom. 

The film was produced by Pyramide, The Match Factory, and Sputnik as production companies.  Future Films was another distributor. 

The official site is here.

I was in the town of Bayeux, site of the William the Conqueror museums, in 1999, not to far from the town of this film.  I have one friend whose family has connections to the Jersey Islands nearby – which I don’t think have shown up in film yet.  

Wikipedia attribution link for WWII picture of Le Havre. 

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