Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Le Havre

(Finland/France/Germany, 2011)

This film is odd in many ways, not least of which is that it is set in the French port city of Le Havre, is in French, but it was written and directed by someone I at first thought was Japanese. His name is Aki Kaurismäki, and doesn’t that look Japanese? But I didn’t spot the umlaut at first. It turns out he is Finnish! He has a following a bit too large to call him a cult director, but his films are all quirky and not likely to make a lot of money, at least in America. I hope he’s better appreciated elsewhere. We saw one of his films, The Man Without a Past, and loved it. I’d like to see more.

(This film reminds me strongly of another we saw not too long ago, and whose name I can’t seem to recall. In that one, a hopeful young boy from the Middle East somewhere wants to get to England to reunite with his true love, who is about to be forced into marriage with some rich swine, but he is stuck in France. He decides to swim to England. One little problem: he can’t swim. He is befriended by a swimming teacher and other sympathizers rebelling against the French immigration police, who are portrayed as little different from the Gestapo. He gets fairly good at swimming, sets out … and drowns. Not what I expected! Can anyone help me out with the title?)

Here the boy is from Gabon, and has spent three weeks in a cargo container that has become misplaced at the bottom of a huge stack of them. When it is opened the people inside are all right (whew! I was ready for disaster), and as they are taken into custody Idrissa escapes. Again, the French police don’t look so damn good. One Fascist cochon is about to machine gun the boy! He is befriended by an elderly man and most of his neighbors, and eventually put on a boat to England. Which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a lot more in the telling and the deadpan acting. It looks great, and makes you feel good without getting all mushy for a second.

The high point is a benefit concert to raise money to pay the smuggler. It is the return of “Little Bob,” an elderly singer who is probably of my generation. He really rocks it in his red leather jacket and snow-white Elvis hair. Lee and I loved him. He had the feel of a “real” person, not a character, and when we looked him up later we found that he is. He’s the sort of person that, if you grew up in France, you would know as well as we know Chuck Berry or Bill Haley. His only competition in French Rock fame is probably Johnny Hallyday, who we saw a long time ago in a movie called The Man on the Train.