Le Havre is a film about a bunch of very odd people. Luckily, it’s also a really good film about a bunch of very odd people.
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki (The Man Without A Past, Lights In The Dusk), Le Havre tells a tale of one man – Marcel Marx – with a heart larger than the eponymous town in which he lives. Having had no children and retired from life as a writer in the city, he wishes to connect more with the people around him. He does this in two ways – by working as a shoe-shiner on the streets of France, and by forming close friendships with everyone from the baker who grants him the first “bread tab” I’ve ever seen, to the landlady who grants him no tab of any sort.
Played by André Wilms, the character of Marcel is as amiable as can be, and this is really what carries the film – because it’s so easy to accept his willingness to help anyone and everyone, the young boy on the run from the French border patrol is not an unlikely house guest – it just appears to be in Marcel’s nature to take him in and help him get to London.
The cast are as amusing as I’d hoped, and it’s one of the things I really enjoy about French cinema – when they do humour, they do it incredibly well. Be it deadpan, melodramatic or just plain quirky, every character in the film comes to life as an intelligent, friendly, loving part of the community in Le Havre. Even Kati Outinen’s (The Man Without a Past) somewhat monotone performance as Marcel’s ailing wife Arletty doesn’t provide too much of a speedbump to one’s enjoyment of the film.
The sad thing is that this film will not sit alongside the major releases of the spring, and it’s a frustrating realisation to have, simply because it deserves to be there. The plot may be somewhat predictable given that it’s a story of a lost boy who needs to get home, but the environment in which it takes place seems at once familiar and exotic, and the quaint town of Le Havre almost seems like a character in and of itself – present, quiet, and calm – an eye in the storm of the events surrounding Marcel. A strong recommendation from me – if you can tear yourself away from today’s CGI-fests, this should render itself unmissable to you.
Le Havre is released in cinemas and on Curzon on Demand from April 6.