Now Showing at: Cincinnati World Cinema Sunday, June 24
Review by: Larry Thomas
If you are a regular listener of my mental musings on films, you already know that I have a particular affinity for French films. This also applies when a Finnish director makes the French film. Le Havre, of the seaport city of the same name, is the latest work from acclaimed indie filmmaker Aki Kaurasmaki. If you managed to see his Leningrad Cowboys go to America and La Vie de Boheme, that one also shot in France, you already have some sense of his style. Although Kaurasmaki’s films may have some serious undertones, he always has time to include a wink, a nudge, and a chuckle or two.
Marcel Marx is an elderly purveyor of shoeshines. The portable kind, as he totes his kit from train station to city streets and elsewhere. He lives modestly with his wife and one dog. They are all devoted to each other. Marcel is a kindly man, with a grand sense of humor. As played by Andre Wilms, it is a performance full of depth and understanding, and is a true joy to watch.
In the course of his daily business, Marcel encounters a young boy from Africa; an illegal immigrant who has eluded the authorities in his quest to get to London, where his mother resides. Marcel is no friend of the establishment, and tries to help the boy, even if it’s only providing a sandwich and a few euros. Of course the police attempt to thwart his kindness in the interest of the state. But will kindness and humanity triumph over the icy stare of the authorities?
Le Havre is a journey of discovery for all the characters: Marcel, his wife, the young boy, Marcel’s friends and associates, even a local police inspector. Their stories intertwine in a fascinating blend of humanity, heartbreak, and humor. All of the performers are unknown on this side of the pond, with the exception of Jean-Pierre Leaud. In his prime, he was Francois Truffaut’s alter ego Antoine Doinel in a series of films when that wonderful director was at full throttle. Leaud has a small, but important role, and it’s nice to see him on the screen again.
There are two important things you need to know about Le Havre. First, it’s one of the most family-friendly foreign films I’ve seen in ages. It’s not rated, but would definitely be a PG if it were. If you have kids old enough to read subtitles and grasp the story, it’s perfect for them. There’s no bad language, violence, nudity, or anything else to distract them from this wonderful story. Second, don’t feel bad if at the climax you have the need to shed a tear or two. Those tears will be right at home as they land on your big smile on their way down. And both are more than appropriate for this film.
Le Havre is a presentation of Cincinnati World Cinema in Covington’s Carnegie Arts Center. There are two showings only, next Sunday, June 24, at 4 and 7 pm. That’s why I’m telling you about it this week, so you can put it on your calendar and as it’s not to be missed.
As always, there is a social hour prior to the film, and a discussion afterward, led by Dr. John Alberti, professor of Cinema Studies at Northern Kentucky University.
Le Havre most richly deserves to be seen. It is an exceptional piece of filmmaking from director Aki Kaurasmaki.