Le Havre has been chosen to be part of the Official Selection of the LUX Prize 2011. Marcel Marx, a former author, has retreated in the port city of Le Havre, in the occupation of a shoe-shiner. He lives happily within his favourite bar, his work, and his wife Arletty, when fate throws in his path an underage immigrant refugee from Africa. As Arletty at the same time gets ill, Marcel has to rise against human indifference with his only weapon of innate optimism and the solidarity of the people of his quartier, but against him stands the blind machinery of the Western constitutionally governed state, represented by the dragnet of the police, moment by moment drawing closer around the refugee boy. It's time for Marcel to polish his shoes and reveal his teeth.
Le Havre was awarded for Best Film at the Munich Film Festival and by the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) at the end of the 64th Cannes International Film Festival.
The film also part to the Sarajevo Film Festival (opening), the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Horizons sections) and the Finland’s 26th Midnight Sun Film Festival.
Inimitable Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki (Grand Jury Prize winner at Cannes 2002 for The Man Without a Past) has made a Utopian fairy tale in contrast with his times. Although he doesn’t understand a word of it, Kaurismäki has once again made a film in the language of Molière, in France, more precisely in the High Normandy region in the small port city of Le Havre, whose vestiges resist the tides of time.
One of the most accomplished films from a filmmaker often full of cynicism, Le Havre is a small marvel of intelligence, formal inspiration and eccentric humour. There are many references, which help render the film an enchanting comedy, with touches of the surreal.
Marcel Marx is a former writer. Speaking a pure and obsolete French, he wields the imperfect subjunctive with the same dexterity with which he wields the rag he uses to shine shoes. He is a man from another era, the kind of man that existed among the poor. Or perhaps he never existed, but Kaurismäki refuses to believe this. The director has become sweeter with age and his optimism lets us dream.
For Kaurismäki, minimalism is the art of stylizing the real. Some may not like this acting style that consists of speaking one’s lines with an empty gaze, but it is actually a formidable foray into the absurd, mastered to perfection. The dialogue is systematically out of sync with its subjects and each line is a surprise. In directing his foreign cast, the director has placed his trust in the musicality of the language and the sobriety of the movements, which are as undemonstrative as possible.
The story takes place today, but the director has set it in an archetypical environment that seems imported directly from 1960s rural France. The issues are politically topical. Clandestine immigration, police brutality and the political circus are other issues that the film touches upon, in a reality that is nevertheless entirely made up.
The men of Le Havre are kind and fraternal. Their hearts are solid and good. When a Melville-like inspector (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) is called to exert his usual repressive violence, he naturally gives in to the surrounding kindness. To hell with realism, there’s a good lesson to be learned here.
Ultimately, Le Havre is an elegant and rhythmical story in which the stoic humour and generosity win over political discourses and the gravity of everyday life. A film that is both simple and difficult to achieve. A marvel.
Le Havre is co-produced by Finland (Sputnik Oy, Yleisradio Oy), France (Pyramide Productions) and Germany (Pandora Filmproduktion) and sold internationally by The Match Factory. It is supported by the European Union's MEDIA programme.