La Havre (2011)
Spine No. 619
the directing: Aki Kaurismaki
the writing: Aki Kaurismaki
the acting: Andre Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin
I know Aki Kaurismaki mostly from his Proletariat trilogy – it all started for me with the episodic Ariel. That is what makes it so intriguingly different to watch a French film by this Finnish director. La Havre is Kaurismaki’s most recent feature film that he can call his own, and holding much more importance, the first film in many years that has garnered a sturdy reception. Thus, to many Kaurismaki is tossing down language barriers and literally exploring the world of film, but the consistency he takes with him is his own appreciated style.
La Havre begins with a vivid portrayal of Marcel Marx (Wilms), an older man, once a failed artist now a shoe polisher, trying to make a living in a small port city of northern France. His life is boring and predictable to say the least as he goes from place to place looking for customers, ending his day at the local bar and then back home to a cooked meal from his wife Arletty (Outinen). Then two things happen as they usually do in movies, Arletty grows ill and a large shipping container of illegal immigrants from Africa is found. Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), a young boy, escapes from the shipping yard with the hopes of getting to London. Having been shielded from the reality of his wife’s serious illness, Marcel continues to work regularly, but on his lunch break, comes across the path of young Idrissa. With the chief inspector (Darroussin) meticulously observing his path, Marcel must do what he believes is right and suffer all and every consequence along the way if necessary.
Kaurismaki’s style creates such a fantastic backdrop to the story at hand. He manifests a dreary tone mirroring the life of Marcel and the world in which he lives. The solemn setting accentuates the gravity of each decision the protagonist makes, bringing a great sense of community to the picture as a whole. Yet, over time colors and character choices begin to lighten the mood, creating a fairytale that neglects reality of the real world. Better yet, the filmmaker does not care. Le Havre was not necessarily controversial in content or groundbreaking in style, but rather a nice film with a nice message. People aspire to do good, want to do good, and in the eyes of Aki Kaurismaki, these good deeds come with personal rewards.
The Bonus Features:
the essay: “Always Be A Human” by Michael Sicinski
the interviews: 2012 interview with Andre Wilms/2011 interviews with Aki Kaurismaki and Kati Outinen
the footage: 2011 Cannes Film Festival footage with cast and crew/Extended version of Little Bob’s concert from the film
Sicinski’s essay frankly had all the colors of the rainbow. It started off a tad bit preachy as it discussed the film’s theme from a much larger perspective. However, very quickly the writing tightens as he burrows into the stylistic approaches of Kaurismaki and the successful effectiveness of his filmmaking. There even comes a point where Sicinski’s essay becomes astoundingly reminiscent to one of my film theory textbooks. Although this sounds like a criticism at first glance – “theory” and “textbook” are two words not often appreciated by most students – the information handed out is quite interesting and useful ammunition in Finnish filmmaking conversations.
This is the first time I’ve come across an interview in the included booklet. Normally, they include the before mentioned essay along with cast and crew information, but I was pleasantly surprised to see more writing after Sicinski’s piece. In this interview Aki Kaurismaki responds to the questions of Peter von Bagh, another Finnish filmmaker. There are numerous aspects of film these directors cover, including – and to my unfeigned adulation – Kaurismaki’s writing process. Definitely an informative question and answer you should not pass over.
Andre Wilms interview is nothing special, however you will get a quick tidbit on the main cast members and some nice words on Aki Kaurismaki’s character. Other than that I would say Wilms does not add much to the movie-watching experience.
With Kati Outinen’s television interview and all the Cannes footage alone, you are getting almost another two hours of bonus features. 45 minutes from the Outinen interview and over an hour from the Cannes press junket and interviews. Because of their lengths, it would be impossible and impractical to list all the information covered in the format displayed here. However, I will say the interview gives much detailed insight into the life and career of Kaurismaki’s most precious leading lady, while the junket gives first hand background to Le Havre specifically. Both thankfully earn their worth, taking over the superior section of my focus.
Worth the Criterion: Yes. Le Havre is yet another great film on Criterion that is hard to find in any other format (other than region 2). The lengthy bonus features raise the value as well, giving you one more excuse to go buy Aki Kaurismaki’s fairytale film.
Worth the link: Mhmm.