Le Havre review: A Charming Tale of Human Compassion
In the port city, Le Havre, France, a picturesque French town filled with bohemians, Marcel Marx (André Wilms) has settled into a quiet life with his loving wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen). His days are spent shining shoes and his evenings are spent with friends at the local bar. During one of these quiet days he meets an African immigrant boy, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), and strives to help him avoid deportation. All in all, it’s a heartwarming story that never forgets the beauty of humanity.
Le Havre won me over with the opening scene. The opening of a movie is crucial in prepping the audience for the story that is to come. Think of the thrill you got during your first time watching the robbery scene in The Dark Knight. It is both a promise and a tasty appetizer. A movie does not have to have an amazing opener to be great, but when it’s done right, I always feel assured that my time is being well-spent and look forward to the story to be told. I won’t ruin the fun, but in this case, I was instantly charmed with Marcel’s wit and knew he was the sort of character worth following.
The dynamic between Marcel and Idrissa is both believable and sweet. Idrissa is too young to fend for himself, but must continue on his journey with nowhere else to go. Marcel, with the heart of a poet, believes in Idrissa’s plight and thus responds in taking responsibility for the boy and helping him forward. The community of Le Havre rallies around Marcel in his rebellious stand. Naturally, the story has political implications, but compassion is at the heart of this tale. The obstacle of the local officials is represented by Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a driven law-enforcer who is a wonderful amalgamation of iconic European inspectors.
Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki utilizes a variety of iconic French film influences (more than I could keep track of, certainly!), but delivers a story that is always focused. The direction is understated and simple. Kaurismäki’s style in Le Havre makes me think of a chapter from Thoreau’s Walden, where Thoreau explains the importance of giving yourself and others space when delving into discussions of importance. The more significant the discussions, and the thoughts therein, the greater the need for physical space to allow personal ruminations. This applies to Le Havre in the way that every scene is only focusing on imparting a single concept and it takes the time to let the viewer appreciate that concept; we see this in the disappointment of a group of discovered and weary refugees, in the reconciliation between an old married couple that simple needed to be brought together again, in the delicacy a husband takes to wrap his ailing wife’s favorite dress like it’s the greatest treasure he can provide. The emotions are poignant and hard to resist.
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