Posted by martinteller on August 4, 2012
Marcel Marx (André Wilms) is a shoeshine man living in the small French city of Le Havre with his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) and his faithful dog Laika. One day a shipping container full of African refugees is discovered and the young boy Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) escapes. Marcel spots him at the docks and tries to offer him food but the connection is broken upon the arrival of a persistent police inspector (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). Later, Arletty falls ill and is taken to the hospital. Returning home, Marcel finds Idrissa waiting for him. He takes him in and begins his crusade to reunite the boy with his mother in London.
It’s been too long since the last Kaurismaki film, 2002′s relatively disappointing Lights in the Dusk. This marks more of a return to form. Fans will be pleased to learn that his trademarks are still intact. Deadpan performances, minimal camera movement, an affection for the proletariat, an appreciation for roots rock and that wonderful dry humor. The film is more overtly political that one is used to seeing from the director, but his sympathies for the downtrodden and marginalized are nothing new. There’s also an unusual fairy tale quality to it, with a utopian ideal of the community rallying behind Marcel, helping him evade the authorities (and nosy neighbor Jean-Pierre Léaud) and a belief in miracles. This may not be how things are, but they’re how we’d like them to be.
It’s a charmingly warm and often funny movie, with a lovely sense of minimalist theatricality and affection for its cast of characters. There isn’t a sour performance in the film, Wilms (returning, again as “Marcel”, from Kaurismaki’s previous French film, La vie de bohème) is instantly lovable in his good-natured shabbiness, and it’s always an absolute joy to see Outinen, though I wish she had a larger role. Miguel, Léaud, Darroussin all perform with admirable dedication to the Kaurismaki style, and there’s a terrific batch of supporting players as well. It’s a pleasure to spend time in this community.
Ozu came to mind while watching this. Not because it feels like an Ozu film (although the two directors have a lot in common) but because I became aware of a numerical similarity in my scores. For both of them, I tend to score in the lower-to-mid 80′s on Criticker. Each has a few favorites that I rate higher and a handful that don’t quite do it for me and get lower scores. In general they occupy the same “really really like but don’t love” territory of my scale. But I do love Kaurismaki and consider him a director I always embrace. So where is the difference? I think it boils down to this. Ozu is a director whose greatness I recognize but whose films don’t quite rev my engine. Kaurismaki is a director I hesitate to call “great” but whose work I’m almost always delighted to experience. Which raises the age-old dilemma of “favorite vs. best” and that’s a can of worms I hate to open. Perhaps someday I will have myself a full Kaurismaki marathon and rethink my scores. In the meantime, this settles comfortably in the middle… didn’t bowl me over but often put a big smile on my face. Rating: Very Good (83)