Cannes Film Festival: 'Le Havre' remains a favorite port in the festival storm


Image Credit: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Now, in the final lap of the Cannes Film Festival, is the time when we critics begin comparing notes and conjecturing meaninglessly on possible prize winners. (Analyze this: What will jury president Robert De Niro like? And have Lars von Trier’s thoughtless comments, reported at face value by disingenuous journalists with no time for context, ruined the chances for von Trier’s great movie Melancholia?) Meanwhile, as we shmooze and quantify, here’s a quiet headline: There’s not a critic I know, including me, who doesn’t put Le Havre, by the sometimes imitated but essentially inimitable Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki, high up on any list of favorites and contenders for a top prize.

Here, with neither the cosmos nor child cruelty as a publicity-generating selling point, is a small, perfect, pointedly optimistic story set among good working-class neighbors in a French port neighborhood located somewhere between Brigadoon and the classic films of Children of Paradise‘s Marcel Carné. Not for nothing is our crusty, salt-of-the-earth hero named Marcel Marx (AK regular André Wilms) and his good wife called Arletty (AK’s ageless muse Kati Outinen, above). Marcel is the perfect working-man philosopher: He’s a Bohemian writer in the past, now content as a humble, itinerant shoe-shine man who often works beside a taciturn Vietnamese colleague (Quoc-Dung Nguyen). Daily life consists of a comforting series of picturesque rituals: Morning bread from the boulangerie, a melon from the greengrocer, an evening apéritif at a cozy, smoky proletarian bar before a simple dinner lovingly cooked by a devoted wife, and the reliability of a faithful dog.

This typically deadpan saga from the maker of The Match Factory Girl, Drifting Clouds and The Man Without a Past (among other Netflix finds) exemplifes France’s commitment to liberté, égalité, fraternité with impish sincerity: When one resourceful kid (Blondin Miguel) escapes after police discover a dockside cargo container hiding a gaggle of desperate African illegal immigrants, Marcel hides and feeds the boy, named Idrissa. The neighbors help, too. Alas, Arletty gets trundled away to a hospital, diagnosed with an illess that only a miracle can cure. And a snitching denouncer (Truffaut legend Jean-Pierre Léaud!) makes trouble, while a by-the-book police inspector (Jean-Pierre Darrouusin) snoops around. The melodrama deepens!

But this is a magical France, a movie France, populated by proud citizens on the side of tolerance and doing the right thing. (A Kaurismäki France, the scenery is characteristically hipster-shabby, shot in a Nordic palette of blues and reds and accompanied by a great soundtrack with a rockabilly beat.) That today’s France, beset by economic crisis that has given rise to a certain national resentment towards immigrants, doesn’t match Kaurismäki’s poker-faced, painted-picture  fairytale makes Le Havre all the sweeter and sharper.

Read more:
Cannes: The best at mid-fest, including ‘The Artist’
Terrence Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ is part luminous evocation of boyhood, part cosmic woo-woo
Cannes: A new year, a new provocation from ‘Michael,’ the Pedophile Movie

Comments (11 total) Add your comment
  • Voodoo

    “That today’s France, beset by economic crisis that has given rise to a certain national resentment towards immigrants, doesn’t match Kaurismäki’s poker-faced, painted-picture fairytale makes Le Havre all the sweeter and sharper.”

    Ugh, please Lisa, get off your high horse.

  • Lisa Schwartzbaum is a Nazi Sympathizer

    Sad that Lisa continues to defends her inappropriate defense of Von Trier’s horribly bad and tasteless joke/defense of Hitler and his implied Holocaust denial. This isn’t trying to use humor to conquer evil, say, in the way that “Jakob the Liar” or “Life is Beautiful” does. Von Trier’s was having a temper tantrum and passive-aggressively trying to say something, anything, outrageous simply because he likes that kind of attention and his film wasn’t generating that kind of controversy. So he was desperately reaching for something and chose to exploit the easy subject of hate for a quick fix. Guess what Lisa? No one MADE Von Trier say what he said. Yes, he has right to say what he wants and the reporters have a right to report on it. I’m sure the Cannes selection committee didn’t just grab a headline to condemn him. They thoughtfully saw through Von Trier’s shameless attempt to be a controversial bad boy wannabe. That’s what they are punishing him for. YOu are journalist blaming the media? haha Funny stuff. Cannes has the right to distance themselves from anyone they like just like you and Von Trier have the right to find Holocaust denying ‘funny.’

  • Mac

    Some of you idiots have this weird fascination with Lisa S., stalking each of her columns waiting to pounce on her critique. Most of the rest of us know you are still upset that she dogged The Clone Wars or Transformers or something, so now you are on her like BO on George Lucas. Get over it already.

  • Mac

    P.S. And, yes, she’s a lousy critic. But that doesn’t mean you have to st alk her.

  • Adwina Lambert

    I like Lisa’s critique’s even way back in CNN Entertainment tee-hee!!

  • Lee

    After reading your critique, Lisa, I am interested in seeing Le Havre. Thank you.

    • Lou

      I agree with Lee. The rest of you snipers are just showing your pettiness.

      Looking forward to a simple sweet French film! Gotta be better than Potiche, which wasn’t bad for fantasy.

      • Lala

        You (and Lee) are the sad ones.

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