Cannes 2011 Review: LE HAVRE

Joshua Brunsting

by: Joshua Brunsting
May 17th, 2011

Rating: 4.5/5

Writer: Aki Kaurismäki
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Kati OutinenJean-Pierre Darroussin

When thinking of what plays during a given year's Cannes Film Festival, one automatically jumps to films that have a far darker tinge. Toss in the occasional blockbuster, and you have a general idea of what catches the eyes of programmers behind this iconic festival. However, it's a deadpan comedy from one of today's most intriguing filmmakers that may prove to be the festival's brightest star.

Making his return to the big screen, auteur Aki Kaurismaki's latest film LE HAVRE has bowed, and with a crowd reception akin to a group of people being given laughing gas for 90 minutes, he's made one hell of a splash on the Croisette.

Kaurismaki's second French-language feature (following LA VIE DE BOHEME), LE HAVRE tells the story of Marcel, a shoe shiner down on his luck. After his wife falls ill, he must not only tend to her, but also tend to an illegal immigrant who has found his way into his home after following him one night. With the law coming down on him, and his wife only getting more and more sick, Marcel must get back on track, and try to make everything come out right.

And while it may ultimately play to most expectations one will have narratively, Kaurismaki gets more than his fair share of things right.

Above all else, LE HAVRE is a comedy that is chock full of laughs. Andre Wilms takes on the role of Marcel Marx (the same name as the lead in BOHEME), and is pitch perfect, giving this character a great deadpan sense of timing, and one that allows his face to be the true vehicle of emotion. He's a stoic man with one great sense of humor, and it allows the viewer to really see the characters heart, issues and all. Kati Outinen plays his wife, Arletty, and is equally great. She doesn't have a ton of screen time, but what she is given, she takes on with a great deal of skill and heart. Her character, as much of the film however, doesn't quite change anything about a narrative like this, but what the character does do is gives our lead a dire situation to work out of, and one that makes LE HAVRE a film you can't take  your eyes off of.

We also meet detective Monet and the stowaway Idrissa, played great by Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Blondin Miguel, respectively. Both are these existential entities that only further the main issue at hand, Marcel's dying wife. A tale of what it means to love and care for someone, we also get that through the side story of a man coming to care for this immigrant. Toss in a somewhat stimulating discussion of migration as a whole, and you have the best way to describe this beautiful comedy.

However, no one is quite as important to this film's success as its director, Kaurismaki. Giving the film a distinct sense of style, LE HAVRE looks and feels as though it's a stage play, best shown by the film's wonderful cinematography. Using a sense of lighting that we haven't seen on the big screen in quite some time, the use of light as a kinetic character within the film is one reason why each frame of this film is as vibrant as Kaurismaki's screenplay. A nostalgic feature in the way something like fellow crowd pleaser THE ARTIST has been said to be, LE HAVRE is made from the heart and mind of a man who loves the history of cinema, and it shows just how these tools can be used perfectly in today's film landscape. A taut screenplay, well-used and composed score, and awards-worthy cinematography, Kaurismaki and his cast and crew have really made one film that you won't be able to stop thinking about.

Overall, while LE HAVRE is a film that, plot-wise, you'll see coming miles away, every second of this film is simply a joyous ride about love, caring, and even immigration. Gorgeously shot, perfectly acted, and full of more life than most film's you'll find, LE HAVRE is simply one of the year's best films. Here's to hoping a stateside distributor falls as in love as I have, and audiences likely will.

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