With a small pile of movies on hand at home, the Le Havre DVD was low on my list—there were simply more interesting things to watch. But with all the others finally out of the way, I sat down and watched Le Havre. I’m glad I did. Named after the French port city on the English Channel, the film is a wry, sometimes funny and sometimes serious depiction of what happens when an aging shoeshine crosses paths with a young African boy who has smuggled himself (along with many others) out of his west African country.
Lest that sound like a possibly too-serious and preachy topic, don’t worry: the director, Aki Kaurismaki, wisely uses a light touch on a subject that could easily become maudlin. He gives us a wonderful cross-section of a neighborhood, where Marcel (the shoeshine), lives with his wife and struggles to make ends meet, sometimes running a tab too high, but clearly loved by the various small shopkeepers and bar owners who see him every day. When his wife becomes ill and he meets Idrissa, the refugee, his previously placid life is upset, but he handles it so well one wonders if he was in some sense long prepared for such an emergency. Without giving away too much, the surprises of grace are clearly apparent by the end of the film, but they are shown so subtly that it was only on reflecting on it afterward that I was made fully aware of the director’s intentions—which means the movie is easily worth a second watch. (This movie is unrated and subtitled. It would get a PG-rating if it were an American movie.)
Posted by: David