Friday, 23 March 2012


Sharmill Films
Now Showing

One good turn deserves another, and kindness is its own reward are two rather trite adages which could easily apply to the non-trite Le Havre, the droll and fable-like new film by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki.

The film takes its name from the French port city of Le Havre, and it's here where Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) makes a humble living as a shoe shine. But when Marcel's wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen), is admitted to hospital with a seemingly terminal condition, he finds he has little time for grief. Or rather, fate presents him with a welcome distraction.

That would be Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), an African boy who, along with his family, has travelled from his homeland concealed in a shipping container. The French authorities discover the immigrants but Idrissa makes a break for it, later discovered, wet and hungry, by Marcel.

The kindly shoe shine decides to take the boy in, with the aim of getting him to family in England. But even with the support of his neighbourhood -- the drinkers at the local bar, the proprietors of the fruit and veg shop, and fellow shoe shine, Chang (Quoc Dung Nguyen), who also happens to be an illegal immigrant -- Marcel's mission is complicated by Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), the dogged police inspector, ironically dressed in black, determined to capture the illegal runaway.

Le Havre is the sunny side of the same coin as Philippe Loiret's 2009 film, Welcome, ( which took a rather more angry approach to the issue of the Sarkozy government's policy of dealing with illegal immigrants in France. In that instance, a Kurdish teenager attempting to make his way to London, via Callais, by any means necessary.

Kaurismaki's treatment, while mildly comedic, is no less effective; a gentle rebuke of the 'stop the boats' rhetoric which has also infected Australian politics of late. Without any heavy-handed didacticism, Kaurismaki celebrates the innate goodness of people and shafts the unblinking nature of political bureaucracy.

The reward for Marcel's innate goodness may seem implausible if you don't go along with Kaurismaki's fable-like tale, but I did and Le Havre warmed my heart considerably as a result. Here's hoping it opens the hearts and minds of the Monets among us.

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