DM Haight

Imagine a room. A man standing before you, fully lit, no shadows under his eyes, or chin. Behind him a blue wall stands with a stark darkness streaked across its face. The man steps backwards into the darkness, and half his frame is engulfed in shadow. The man then says he is of African descent and that he is the albino of the family, and also a lawyer. Although in reality, Marcel Marx, played by André Wilms, is an ever-aging white man who shines shoes for a meager living. He discovers a young African refugee who escaped from a shipping container before the police could take him. Marcel takes the boy in and sets to work on a way to get him to London to live with his mother. The story is engaging because the set design and cinematography build up the locations of Havre, not to mention the straight, unimpressed faces of every character, which seem to draw out a chuckle just by the lack of expression in dire, albeit silly, situations. And the narrative is simple enough that the harshest filmgoer will appreciate the sincerity of Marcel toward his wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen), and Idrissa (Blondin Miguel).

The director, Aki Kaurismäki, seems to have an appreciation for older films. The choice of set designs including mass amounts of blue is all it’s shades was a brilliant decision, because it at once brought the room in closer, stifling the characters, and let the audience know that this was home. The streets, alleyways, kitchen, bedrooms, couch, all, for the majority of the film, were shrouded in blue. It can be seen as a means of telling the audience that these characters do not come from a place where wealth is as abundant as wine. In fact, Marcel has driven up quite the debt at the bakery, and often takes baguettes while the shopkeeper isn’t looking. The blues of the film symbolize the meagerness the characters hold onto with joy, and the hidden despair they all keep from Marcel. The near-destitution of Marcel and Arletty is hardly in the vision of Marcel, who knows they are poor, but still holds onto his Bohemian ways, even at the cost of his wife’s health.

These moments of dire circumstances, however, are what make the film funny. The deadpan delivery of the jokes resembles the way in which Wes Anderson handles his films. And the greatest kick of the film, the cinematography, makes the very atmosphere of the film seem as if it was made fifty years ago. It is remarkable how this is accomplished, because the film looks as if it could have been lifted from a Hitchcockian film, or a Michael Powell film. The feel of it is uncanny, with the high contrast shadows along the walls, and the earthiness of the actors’ faces, worn wrinkled by lives of hardships. It harkens back to an age where films were films, not blockbusters. The deep shadows and the one stray detective who only goes after criminals, brings back memories of old noir films, and with just a slight twinge of those German Expressionistic lightings and camera settings, the films takes on layers that just aren’t perceived enough to be appreciated by themselves. They have to be appreciated as the whole.

And the whole is comprised of the sweet narrative. The movement of it leaves very few moments of stillness, or at the very least boredom. It is by no means a fast paced film, but it is one that has a smooth flow that allows the audience, for once, to sit back and enjoy lazily while the film takes over. The characters are sketchy, leaving murder scenes and picking up refugees being hunted by the police and a strange detective, but they are loveable, and they bring about an awareness for both liberal and conservative ideas about illegal immigration. The story actually gives us humanity, which is all too rare in popular cinema. It’s straight-laced, no fringes, a traditional narrative. There are guns, but they aren’t fired. There’s a broken heart, but it gets fixed. There’s a boy trying to get to his mom, and a man willing to get him there. The film is so simple, and yet intricate enough that we forget we are reading subtitles. We become transported by Le Havre.

What Aki Kaurismäki has done with Le Havre isn’t remarkable, but it is certainly commendable. He managed to drop us in the blue and keep us satisfied with our situation in that blue, just like Marcel. He brought out the classic feel of a lost generation, bringing about nostalgia for a past that only a few appreciate.

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