LE HAVRE (Aki Kaurismäki, 2011)

I take my Jean-Pierre Léaud, perhaps my favorite film actor of the past fifty years, as I happen to find him, and an inside joke in Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre is that he is playing much the same creep that Jean-Luc Godard himself played in A bout de souffle (Godard, 1959). For the record, Godard’s several-times brilliant Léaud is a tight-faced snitch in his third outing for Kaurismäki, and he is (of course) plain wonderful, albeit in an unpleasant part. For the rest of it, though, Le Havre finds Kaurismäki in an unusually amiable, fanciful, even sentimental mood. Courting the audience, and in French, this may be his worst film.

Another “joke”: Whereas Léaud played a London immigrant in Kaurismäki’s terrific I Hired a Contract Killer (1990), here he is an impediment to a Senegalese boy’s illegal emigration to London after becoming separated from his cargo-ship stowaway family in Le Havre and on the run from authorities, who seek to send him back to Africa. Proving themselves the salt of the earth, Le Havre’s—the haven’s—working-class inhabitants join forces to protect the boy and help send him on his way to his family. Their leader is a shoeshiner reassuringly named Marx, expertly played by André Wilms, who once played Albert Schweitzer, no less (The Great White Man of Lamberene,Bassek ba Kobhio, 1995). Indeed, Marx and wife Arletty (the name of the great French actress who tumbled from grace by proving herself an internationalist when it comes to sex during the Occupation, and played—surprisingly uncertainly—by Kaurismäki stalwart Kati Outinen) take the boy in to hide him in their apartment. But will Inspector Monet live up to his name by turning a blind eye to the boy?

The whole thing is made all the sillier by Arletty’s terminal illness, which—well, suffice it to say that the New Age of Miracles is at hand.

Best film, Louis Delluc Prize; best film, Chicago; best film, best direction, Jussi Awards; best film prize of the international critics, Cannes.

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