Le Havre (2011)

April 4th, 2012
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Cast: Andre Wilmes, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Kati Outinen, Blondin Miguel, Evelyne Didi

French with English subtitles.  Cert12    




Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki has invented his own genre of ‘contemporary retro’ with an improbable and deadpan drama set in 1950s Le Havre.  It’s a drôle French version of The Archers that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  You know the kind of thing:  an everyday story of gentlefolk in a close-knit community where kindly lawyer-shoe-shiner (Wilmes) is harbouring a nicely-behaved child deportee, who also happens to be black, from the clutches of absurdly buttoned-up and ineffectual Inspector Monet.  Jean-Paul Darroussian gives a tongue-in-cheek turn in the style of Inspector Clouseau.

The man in question is Marcel Marx.  At first he strikes an odd figure as this desiccated do-gooder, with his dog-eared existence and wife Arletty who’s seen better days. But these two are likeable and happy in their threadbare lifestyle, making ends meet with the support of local traders who expect nothing in return for their daily supplies.  The  grocer (Francois Monnie), the baker (Evelyne Didi) and the soigne barmaid, with her endless aperitifs ‘on the house’ are all well-cast and amusing.  There’s a comforting rhythm to this bizarre harbourside harmony with no trace of rancour or, indeed, reality.  Authentic and highly unlikely, but you wish life was really like this.  Billed as a comedy there are dark moments when Arletty gets cancer and Darroussin goes on the prowl with a pineapple but this is downtown utopia not Les Miserables.

Kaurismäki originally had the idea to do this uplifting French tale along the lines of   “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, but opted only for the latter: “The other two were always too optimistic. But fraternité you can find anywhere, even in France!”   And though life is sometimes gloomy in cloudy Le Havre, he makes sure that clouds have a silver lining.

Meredith Taylor ©

Releases in the Curzon and across London from 6th April 2012

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