Le Havre
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Le Havre


Apart from the timeliness of its concern with illegal migration, a solitary mobile phone is the clearest marker of the temporal setting of the deliberately ageless Le Havre, an amiable slice of social not-quite-realism from Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki. Its geographic setting, at least, is no mystery, given that the film derives its title from the French port city in which it takes place.

There, an aging bohemian, evocatively monikered Marcel Marx (André Wilms), earns a meagre living as a shoeshine man and shares a modest home with his doting wife, Arletty (named for a mid-century French starlet and played by Kaurismäki stalwart Kati Outinen). Meanwhile, a local police inspector (the trench-clad Jean-Pierre Darroussin, looking like a transplant from a film by Jean-Pierre Melville) is searching for Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), a young African refugee who evades capture after he and a party of fellow stowaways are discovered in a dockside shipping container.

After Arletty takes ill, fate seems to forge a magical connection between Marcel and Idrissa, who turns up at the former’s door. Sharing an implicit sense of obligation reminiscent of a cell of Resistance partisans, Marcel and his fellow townsfolk band together in an effort to smuggle the boy to London, where his mother waits.

Warmly optimistic and entirely earnest, Le Havre unfolds like a deadpan fairytale, for better and worse. It’s intermittently charming and consistently compassionate, but also slight, particularly in its characterization of the docile, doe-eyed Idrissa. Both Wilms and Darroussin are excellent, however, and even if the plot itself holds few surprises, Kaurismäki’s latest is a refreshingly simple pleasure.