(Aki Kaurismäki, 2011)
The odd, rather unique tone in Kaurismäki's work is well in evidence in Le Havre, basically a slight comic fairytale in the usual Kaurismäki register. I have a bit of a problem with that register; while I can see how accomplished this filmmaker is, recognise the craft and sensibility in his work, it does absolutely nothing for me on a personal level. Rather I find it dull and even off-putting; once Kaurismäki has gotten into his simple narrative groove, his films all proceed along predictable lines. Deadpan, cynical yet quietly romantic, and featuring an intriguing clash between grimy realism and a scrupulously designed retro style, his work usually presnts an assortment of oddball characters meeting and interacting in his odd little world.
Le Havre is no different; here an old shoeshine man in the titular port helps an African refugee escape the immigration authorities while his beloved wife lies stricken in hospital with a seemingly terminal disease. The community around him - the usual eccentric Kaurismäki group, including a Vietnamese man posing as Chinese, a retired rock star, the local baker & grocer, and a Jean-Pierre Melville referencing Police detective - all lend a hand, giving the film a decidedly optimistic outlook on human nature, underlined by its feelgood ending. That plays interestingly against the backdrop, which alludes to the real-life struggles of African immigrants in Europe with grim portrayals of a refugee camp and detention centre.
There are good things here; Kaurismäki knows how to film in master-shots, his use of colour, composition and music have been polished by the years, and he writes a few fine comic scenes for his characters. Fans of his work will be satisfied, but agnostics may remain unconvinced.