Le Havre (PG)

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Review byMatthew Turner05/04/2012

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 93 mins

Aki Kaurismaki's latest deadpan comedy drama has a likeable central performance, a topical plot and his usual sense of film-infused style, but the mixture doesn't always work and it's not quite as engaging as it should have been.

What's it all about?
Directed by Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki (making his second film in French), Le Havre is set in the titular port and stars Andre Wilms as Marcel, an ageing shoeshine man and twinkly-eyed chancer who's taken aback when his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) has to go into hospital for cancer treatment. When he meets young African refugee Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), the pair strike up an unlikely friendship and Marcel helps hide the boy from the attentions of a suspicious cop (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and a nosey neighbour (Jean-Pierre Leaud), while plotting with his friends to find a way to reunite Idrissa with his mother in London.

The Good
Kaurismaki's films frequently play with genre trappings and here he's chosen to replicate 1940s French thrillers, despite the fact that the film is ostensibly set in the present day. Consequently, Wilms channels Jean Gabin to enjoyable effect and everyone wears trenchcoats, while the soundtrack, sets and camerawork all heighten the sense of 40s style (arguably, a bit of 60s slips in now and then, most notably in the sunglasses-wearing Alain Delon-alike who pops up occasionally).

Wilms is superb as Marcel and there's strong support from Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Kati Outinen, as well as the colourful collection of French character actors (such as Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi and Francois Monnie) that play Marcel's loyal friends. There's even a lengthy musical sequence featuring a live performance from 1960s French singing star Little Bob.

The Bad
The problem is that while the style of the film and the plot are both enjoyable enough on their own, they don't really gel together in a satisfactory way, which makes it difficult to engage with the film as you're constantly waiting for something to fall into place. Similarly, Kaurismaki's deadpan humour is an acquired taste at the best of times and Le Havre is full of moments that never quite work, to the point where you're not even sure if they're supposed to be funny or not.

Worth seeing?
Fans of Kaurismaki's work are likely to have a better time with Le Havre than the average audience member, but it's worth seeing for Kaurismaki's stylish direction and a likeable central performance from Wilms.

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Content updated: 21/07/2018 20:41

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