Fine French Finnish – - January 2012

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You’d have every reason to believe the film was French not Finnish, though its in fact Finland's official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film, due to it being helmed by director Aki Kaurismäki ( who’s a real time Finn).

The film’s title, Le Havre stems from a namesake city in the Seine-Maritime department of the Haute-Normandie region in France.  A fairly indiscriminate and dowdy portside town, it serves as excellent fetishist fodder for francophiles Not unlike many harbor cities dotting the coast in north-western France , Le Havre’s deadpan  geography and ambience are a focal point  for this simplistic fable.  Oddly, even  ugly suburbanites swilling cheap wine in dowdy cafes and stark industrial areas take on a romantic veneer when  French is spoken  rather than bland gringo warble.

The storyline sees teenage African refugee Idrissa (Blondin Miguel)  meet Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a well-spoken bohemian and self employed shoe shiner. Idrissa became stranded in Le Havre after a half hearted escape attempt to London and Marcel subsequently offers him sanctuary and aids his final escape Ever the renegade, Marcel takes Idrissa under his wing, with a terminally ill wife in hospital, his new mission offering hope and distraction. Next up is a montage of sweet and moralistic scenarios,  with Marcel reuniting an estranged musician couple so they can perform at a benefit fundraiser  to send Idrissa to London,  and the local community colluding to hide Idrissa from zealous cops.

Its all very sweet, and the tidy minimalism of Le Havre is at times  lacking complexity, yet  the social polemic is tackles is very real,  and often far uglier than the film’s palatable innocence.

According to data collected by the Human Rights Documentation Center  immigrants are blamed by a majority of French citizens for increases in unemployment, crime and decreasing educational standards. They are seen by nearly three-quarters of the population as more likely to commit crimes than the average French person is. Nearly 40% of the population supports forcible repatriation of unemployed immigrants, and 22% supports forcible repatriation of all immigrants.

Hence the twee irreverence of Le Havre hides a greater evil, which in a way negates its  resemblance to a kid’s TV film. All up a fun way to spend 90 minutes, and indulge your inner Francophile (AKA Gallophile).