Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki (Oscar-nominated Man without a Past) is an acquired taste--he brings a mix of arch humor and warm humanity to the table. He's hip and square at the same time, a bit like David Lynch, or Charlie Chaplin. Some people get him and some people--like this year's Cannes competition jury---do not. While I figured Sony Pictures Classics would snap this one up, the film still awaits a signed U.S. distribution deal.
Le Havre, shot in French, is a warm-the-cockles-of-your-heart story about a middle-aged shoeshine man (Andre Wilms), on the edge of grinding poverty in the port city, whose loving, nurturing wife (Kati Outinen) is hiding her illness from him. Along comes a young boy tanker stowaway from Gambia (Blondin Miguel), who runs away from the police. First the shoeshine man, then his entire neighborhood, rise up to salvage this kid and protect him from the cops. The Cannes FIPRESCI critics jury gave the prize for best film to Le Havre, which also nabbed special mentions from the Ecumenical Jury and the Palm Dog jury--for Laika the dog.
A sampling of reviews and a trailer are below.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:
"Le Havre had all the master's trademarked deadpan dialogue and delicious nuggets of bone-dry humour, and his compassion for the marginalised and dispossessed, but with something richer and sweeter than I remember from his previous pictures. His sensibility is closer to that of Chaplin, in this film, than anyone else...Kaurismäki's movie moves lightly but elegantly and quickly, like a little jockey on a powerful horse. In the hands of someone else, this film might seem unendurably twee and affected, but its charm and good nature carry it along. Somehow, for all its comedy and absurdity, Le Havre addresses its theme with more persuasive confidence than many a grim social-realist picture."
Kirk Honeycutt, THR:
"Understand, the whole story, its characters and locales, is something of a fairy tale informed by old movies. Kaurismaki doesn’t “quote” old movies or parody then, he simply acts a though he were on a studio backlot making an old-fashioned film where working-class people can perform heroic deeds, idealism is never scorned and even a crafty cop — think of Claude Rains in Casablanca — can have a soft spot…This is not a film that takes sides or offers solutions to the refugee problems facing the world. All the writer-director presents is a tender, warm embrace to those who find themselves rootless. Le Havre offers them and moviegoers an enchanted port in the storm, a cinematic refuge from real life where good intentions are enough."
Eric Kohn, indieWIRE:
"With its bouncy soundtrack, deadpan humor and good-natured disposition, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki’s “Le Havre” is an endearing affair. Combining his clownish storytelling with a life-affirming plot, Kaurismaki churns a fundamental scenario through his own unique narrative tendencies, yielding a product both heartwarming and irreverent, two qualities that should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his distinctive touch…Kaurismaki blends classic suspense tropes with the cinematic equivalent of a smirk."
Steve Pond, TheWrap:
"What’s so enjoyable is that Kaurismaki has such a light touch with this heavy subject…Like so many films here, "Le Havre" offers up an ending that is open to interpretation. Even if good deeds are done by men and women, there are some things beyond our individual capacity to fix; it takes something like a miracle to fix those. How you read the ending here will depend on whether or not you believe in miracles. We choose to see the best in life, as we choose to see the best in people."
Kevin Jagernauth, ThePlaylist:
"Le Havre is unlike any film about immigration or really, any comedy you’re likely to see. Easily one of Kaurismaki’s best films to date, he has created a political crowdpleaser, a film that’s broadly appealing with an undercurrent of seriousness. But Kaurismaki succeeds because he hits the heart first."
Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline:
"Le Havre couldn’t have been made by anyone other than Kaurismäki: It manages to be lyrical even though it moves forward in the typical Kaurismäki fits-and-starts. Its jokes are so gentle, and delivered with such deadpan assurance, that it sometimes takes a split second for you to register how absurdly funny they are."
Lesley Felperin, Variety:
"It's all rather jolly and slight, and certainly doesn't break any new ground for the Finnish auteur, even though it foregrounds more influences than usual…But on its own terms, Le Havre is a continual pleasure, seamlessly blending morose and merry notes with a deftness that's up there with Kaurismaki's best comic work."