Le Havre

It feels like a family reunion with some of Aki Kaurismaki's favorite Gallic and Finnish thesps, joined by a few newbies in 'Le Havre.'

With: Andre Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Quoc-dung Nguyen, Laika, Francois Monnie, Roberto Piazza, Pierre Etaix, Jean-Pierre Leaud. (French dialogue)

Mixing together some of helmer Aki Kaurismaki’s favorite Gallic and Finnish thesps with a few newbies, “Le Havre” feels like a welcoming family reunion. A semi-contempo fairy tale about a shoeshine man who finds redemption helping an African stowaway in the titular Normandy harbor, pic takes place in the same retro-styled deadpan universe in which all Kaurismaki films dwell. That’s not a bad thing, especially for his fan base, and despite dark edges concerning the poor treatment of immigrants, “Le Havre” is neater and sweeter than his previous pic, “Lights in the Dusk.” Pic should ship out to the director’s usual offshore ports.

Marcel Marx (august French thesp Andre Wilms, featured in Kaurismaki’s “La Vie boheme,” “Juha” and “Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses”) shines shoes at the train station in Le Havre, a career suffering ever-decreasing returns given the rise of sneakers over leather footwear. When he and fellow shoeshine man Chang (Vietnamese actor Quoc-dung Nguyen) see one of Marcel’s clients gunned down, Marcel’s only reaction is to shrug and be thankful he got paid first.

Popular on Variety

At home, Marcel takes for granted his wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen, whose Finnish accent is never remarked upon by anyone), a femme so devoted to her hubby she doesn’t want the doctors to tell him she’s dying, because it would upset him. Besides, miracles do happen, as she pointedly observes.

Meanwhile, down at the docks, a security guard hears a baby crying in a sealed container that originated in West Africa and was bound for Blighty, but which has been sitting on the quayside for weeks due to a computer mix-up. Rightly suspecting it will be full of smuggled souls, the authorities open it up, and are relieved to find its human cargo still alive. One preteen boy, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), runs off; the rest are sent to various refugee camps in France where riots are taking place (seen in real news footage) to await deportation.

Idrissa crosses paths with Marcel, who takes the poor kid under his wing. Before long, the whole neighborhood is helping to keep the boy hidden from Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin, a newcomer to the Kaurismaki corps who falls perfectly in step with everyone else’s droll, morose line delivery). To raise the needed coin to pay for Idrissa’s illegal passage to London to find his mother, they persuade local aging rock legend Little Bob (a real local musician, credited here under his real name, Roberto Piazza) to give a “trendy charity concert,” providing the de rigueur rockabilly musical interlude few Kaurismaki films can do without.

It’s all rather jolly and slight, and certainly doesn’t break any new ground for the Finnish auteur, even though it foregrounds more influences than usual from French filmmakers like Marcel Carne (obvious, given the protagonists’ names), Jean-Pierre Melville, Robert Bresson and others. But on its own terms, “Le Havre” is a continual pleasure, seamlessly blending morose and merry notes with a deftness that’s up there with Kaurismaki’s best comic work.

Craft contributions from regular alumni Timo Salminen on camera and Timo Linnasalo at the editing table ensure the pic has the same glowing colors, stylized lighting and crisp pace auds have come to expect from their collaborations with Kaurismaki. It’s like listening to a band that’s been cheerfully churning it out for years, whose members all know each other’s timings inside out, not unlike onscreen performers Little Bob and his grizzled, perfectly in-sync crew.

Le Havre


Production: A Pyramide Distribution (in France) release of Sputnik, Pyramide Prods., Pandora Film Prod. presentation, in association with Arte France Cinema, ZDF/Arte, with the participation of the Finnish Film Foundation, Canal Plus, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, CNC, YLE, Cinecinema, Arte France, the Region Haute-Normandie. (International sales: the Match Factory, Cologne, Germany.) Produced by Aki Kaurismaki. Executive producers, Fabienne Vonier, Reinhard Brundig. Directed, written by Aki Kaurismaki.

Crew: Camera (color), Timo Salminen; editor, Timo Linnasalo; production designer, Wouter Zoon; costume designer, Fred Camier; sound (Dolby SRD), Tero Malmberg, Olli Parnanen; line producers, Stephane Parthenay, Hanna Hemila; assistant director, Gilles Charmant; casting, Charmant. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 17, 2011. Running time: 93 MIN.

Cast: With: Andre Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Quoc-dung Nguyen, Laika, Francois Monnie, Roberto Piazza, Pierre Etaix, Jean-Pierre Leaud. (French dialogue)

More Scene

  • 'Little America' Team on Creating Immigration

    'Little America' Team on Creating the Immigration Anthology Series for Apple TV Plus

    Respect and authenticity were the key words at the screening of the new Apple TV Plus series “Little America” on Thursday in Los Angeles. Produced by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon and inspired by true stories featured in Epic Magazine, “Little America” is an anthology series focused on immigration. For executive producer Sian Heder, [...]

  • 2018 Sundance Film Festival - Egyptian

    Sundance 2020: The Ultimate Party Guide

    Heading to Park City? From intimate dinners and cocktail parties to late night bashes (that end just in time to head to brunch), there’s plenty to keep this year’s film festival attendees out of the cold between screenings. Here is Variety’s ultimate party guide for Sundance 2020:  Popular on Variety Thursday, Jan. 23 “Summertime” Premiere Party [...]


    Jenna Andrews Hosts Zhavia Ward, Lennon Stella at Jed Foundation Fundraiser

    Jenna Andrews, the Canadian singer-songwriter, record producer and executive, hosted a pre-Grammy event in partnership with The Jed Foundation at Alice and Olivia in West Hollywood on Tuesday.  The non-profit Jed is dedicated to protecting emotional health and preventing suicide. The foundation has partnered with high schools and colleges in order to “strengthen mental health, [...]

  • Coldplay - Chris Martin

    Grammys 2020: The Ultimate Party Guide

    Let the music play, indeed. The Grammys are just days away and dozens of parties are happening every night this week leading up to the big day, Sunday, Jan. 26. And the partying continues with several bashes following the ceremony. (All events listed are by invitation only unless marked otherwise; this list is being updated [...]

  • Jared Harris arrives at the 26th

    No, Jared Harris is Not Playing Doctor Octopus in Marvel's 'Morbius'

    The first-ever trailer for Marvel and Sony’s next Spider-man spinoff “Morbius” left comic book fans reeling with theories. While the plight of the main character, Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) – a scientist dying of a rare blood disease who accidentally turns himself into a vampire – seemed ripped right out of the comics, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content