Le Havre

Le Havre

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Artificial Eye

Release date: April 6th 2012
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 93 minutes

Country of origin: France
Original language: French with English subtitles

Writer and director: Aki Kaurismaki

Cast: Andre Wilms, Jean-Pierre Daroussin, Kati Outinen, Blondin Miguel, Quoc-Dung Nguyen, Roberto Piazza

Immigration is a political hot potato, with views on either side of an extreme spectrum. With Le Havre, writer and director Aki Kaurismaki neither calls for open borders or stricter policing and deportation. Instead, he brings us a human story that unfolds behind the politics and statistics.

In this present-day French town where some of the cargos are human, a security guard on a routine stroll taps on the crates as he walks by, until he hears a baby cry. The crate was accidentally rerouted to Le Havre on its way to London from Libreville, Gabon, leaving the illegal immigrants, including Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) and his grandfather, trapped inside with no one aware of their location.

Le Havre

Facing police officers armed with machine guns, Idrissa makes a run for it and while hiding waist deep in the harbour, he meets Marcel (Andre Wilms) and asks him whether he’s in London. Eventually Marcel decides to hide Idrissa in his home and tries to find a way to help him, but when the newspaper headlines claim the missing boy has “links to Al-Qaeda” it starts to become a little more complicated.

The story is not so much about Idrissa, but about how a community responds to his presence in Le Havre. When we first meet Marcel, he doesn’t immediately come across as a nice guy. He’s not a bad person, but something about him seems a little underhanded, perhaps, as he spends his time in bars with his friends whilst his wife ailing remains at home.

Le Havre

I wasn’t familiar with Kaurismaki’s previous films, so I’ll put this down to being unsure of his tone because as the film progressed and the characters developed, Marcel really grew on me. I was utterly charmed by his gruff enthusiasm, his restrained emotion, and his faith in his friends. He seemed certain he could make a difference for Idrissa and he helped, not because he want to ‘do a good deed’, but because he saw a bad situation he could remedy.

Whilst Le Havre shows the destruction of the Sangatte refugee camp, sensationalist headlines, and the tensions in the native community, it never seems polemic or intent to drive a political message home to us. Kaurismaki shows us these things without asking for our judgement. There’s a bit of a bias, sure, but definitely no more than is applied by the media.

Le Havre

Idrissa’s grandfather says that “the jar will keep returning to the wall until it breaks” and it’s this sliver of a human perspective that really brings home the immigration issue. He’s more than a statistic, more than an invisible, illegal shadow; he’s a real life person who exists, one among the millions whom we routinely ignore.

With such weighty issues, Le Havre focuses on the positives in life. Kaurismaki manages to keep it light without taking away the rough edges. Marcel’s actions are how grassroots activism begins, inspiring his neighbours to take small actions that all add up to brining about a massive change in one person’s life, and it’s a lesson that we would all do well to remember.

About Frances Taylor

Frances Taylor

Frances likes words and pictures, regardless of media. She finds great comfort and escape in film, and is attracted to anything character-driven with a strong story. Through these stories, she will find meaning in the world. Three movies that Frances thinks are really good for this are You and Me and Everyone We Know (Miranda July), I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK (Chan-Wook Park), and How I Ended This Summer (Alexei Popogrebsky).

When Frances grows up, she would like to write words and make pictures and have cool people recognise her on the street and tell her that they really enjoy her work.

She can be found overreacting and over-caffeinated on Twitter @penny_face, a childhood moniker from her grandmother owing to her gloriously round face.