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NYFF 2011. Aki Kaurismäki's "Le Havre"

"Truly remarkable" for some, while for others, it reveals the "dangers of auteurs refusing to venture beyond their established styles."

The New Yorker's Richard Brody sets up Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre, "set in the port city in the present day, where Marcel Marx (André Wilms) — a former writer, now an itinerant shoe-shine man — provides refuge for Idrissa Saleh (Blondin Miguel), a boy from Gabon who arrived clandestinely in a ship container and is being hotly pursued by the authorities. The probings of the black-clad police inspector Henri Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) recall the sinister ways of the Vichy regime, as the hunted boy evokes Jewish wartime refugees, and the solidarity of the shopkeepers and laborers who protect him reflects a bygone but heartwarming class unity (as well as the comforting myth of a nation of resisters)."

"What is truly remarkable about Le Havre," finds Michael Sicinski, dispatching from Toronto to Cargo, "is Kaurismäki's clear, unfussy depiction of a bedrock of humanist decency within French society, wherein people don't think twice about helping the immigrant, just as the best of them would have hidden a Jew 75 years ago. Formally, Kaurismäki's films have always been about bodies and space, both their movements and their immobility. In purely constructivist terms, he owes much to Fassbinder, although their worldviews and sensibilities are miles apart. With its frankly artificial happy ending, and a secondary resolution so miraculously engineered as to border on Sirkian self-parody, Le Havre is aggressively frank in its counterfactual utopianism. Kaurismäki uses cinema to envision a world in which the love of humanity overcomes borders, and even death – things to aspire to, rather than the same bad news."

"As usual, camera moves, cuts, and gestures are boiled down to the essential, with emotion so concentrated as to give the impression of no emotion at all," writes Fernando F Croce at the House Next Door. "The dangers of auteurs refusing to venture beyond their established styles and worldviews are on full display, though it's hard to resist the absurd and deeply felt spectacle of Kaurismäki muse Kati Outinen speaking phonetic French as a housewife named Arletty."

Writing for the L, Andrew Schenker notes that "the world of Le Havre can be said to consist of a succession of friendly faces and comically sinister figures — one of whom, in a film heavy with allusions to French literature and cinema, is played by Jean-Pierre Léaud."

For Genevieve Yue, writing in Reverse Shot, "while it borrows liberally from classic French auteurs ranging from Bresson to Tati, its core is unmistakably, cheerfully, and bitterly Kaurismäki's: however bleak circumstances may appear, Le Havre insists on the need for people to work their problems out together, or at least share them over a drink."

"Contains a Mickey-and-Judy plot twist, a shot that echoes a Susan Hayward movie (you'll know it when you see it), and a deplorable French pun. The squarest movie the Siren has seen all year, and she's including her TCM viewing here. She was crazy about it."

More from Ed Champion, Kenji Fujishima (House Next Door), Tom Hall, Glenn Kenny, Kevin B Lee (Fandor), Kong Rithdee (Cinema Scope) and Scott Tobias (AV Club, B-). Earlier: Daniel Kasman and more reviews from Cannes.

Updates: As Ryan Gallagher notes in a comment below, the Criterion Cast has five clips.

Phil Coldiron in Slant: "Of all the immigration films this year, and there are many, ranging from brilliant (Low Life, one of the New York Film Festival's most egregious omissions this year) to ludicrous (The Invader), Le Havre is certainly the most openly optimistic, a fact that, in the face of the world, seems dishonest until one realizes that what Kaurismäki has made here is a children's film. This is in no way a slight, as anyone who's read André Bazin thoughts on The Red Balloon should understand." Le Havre's "view is that of a child who hasn't yet been broken to accept a world of limited possibilities, which is another way of saying that its view is revolutionary."

Update, 10/5: For Michael J Anderson, "though Kaurismäki's strategies display a familial relation to Pedro Almodóvar's mannerism, Le Havre does alternately utilize its palette with an eye to the film's narrative subject: even more than the work's primary tones, Kaurismäki's marked introduction of black-and-white to dress his law enforcement officials procures a distinctive metaphorical value, as it suggests a strict, insufficiently flexible and compassionate legal morality. Consequently, the film's more vibrant palette retrospectively secures its own, inverted signification, as a poetic emblem of the bohemian value system that defines the Finnish maestro's latest. Le Havre indeed represents Kaurismäki working at the peak of his filmmaking powers."

Updates, 10/19: "The French setting seems to have leavened Kaurismäki's morose humor," suggests J Hoberman in the Voice. "Le Havre (which means 'the haven' in French) envisions a new, post-communist international — it might have been made for the IWW, if not the occupants of Zuccotti Park."

Kaurismäki "has elsewhere been more adventurous (1990's The Match Factory Girl) and more perceptive about the human condition (2002's The Man Without a Past)," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "But his adorable, stage-set–like locations and spare conversations have a timeless appeal, even if they fall close to preciousness and barely seem applicable to the real world. This is textbook Kaurismäki, neither fresh nor unwelcome."

Interviews with Kaurismäki: David Fear (TONY) and Damon Smith (Filmmaker).

Updates, 10/20: "The picture is gently pointed in the way it rails against the aggressive tactics employed by European governments against refugees from other nations," writes Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek, "and suggests a way forward, inch by optimistic inch: This is a wry mini-treatise on the necessity of being kind and having guts. Le Havre, shot by Kaurismäki's regular cinematographer Timo Salminenalso, is also gorgeous to look at: Frame by frame, it's a marvel of lighting — the images look soft and bright at once, as if old Hollywood craftsmanship had been happily wed with modern straightforwardness and simplicity."

Patrick Z McGavin: "The movie sharply melds old and new, classic Hollywood with groundbreaking French works (nouvelle vague icon Jean-Pierre Léaud turns up as a 'denouncer,' or rat). The details emerge through the director's meticulous, beautifully upholstered creation."

"The film harkens back to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Douglas Sirk-inspired dramas," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News, "but Kaurismäki puts Fassbinder's gloom on Prozac. In the past, the director's optimistic austerity suggested the motto of a character in Thomas Pynchon's novel V. — 'keep cool but care.' Le Havre throws away the 'keep cool' part."

"There is an element of old fogeyism in Mr Kaurismaki's sensibility, a stubborn loyalty to vinyl records, celluloid film, vintage dresses and other old-fashioned modern stuff." AO Scott in the New York Times: "The only cellphone you see on screen belongs to a bad guy. Still, Le Havre is not entirely, or even primarily, nostalgic in its intentions. It may be conservative in its respect for older creative traditions, and also in its affection for the sturdy values of community, but it is also unapologetically radical in its antiauthoritarian spirit."

"Minor pleasures abound in Le Havre, especially in the effortless chemistry and affection between longtime Kaurismäki favorites Wilms and Outinen, and in the film's resonant sense of community," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "It's a pleasing, well-proportioned trifle, but that doesn't seem like enough."

Yesterday, as I was posting a roundup on Criterion's Leningrad Cowboys box set, Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh were discussing Drifting Clouds (1996) at PopMatters.

New interviews with Kaurismäki: Craig Hubert (BOMBlog) and Eric Kohn (indieWIRE).

Updates, 10/22: "The cinematography and lighting design, created once again by longtime Kaurismäki cinematographer Timo Salminen, could come straight out of, say, Rudolph Maté's D.O.A," notes Tom Hall, "but they also carry a painterly warmth that would not be out of the place in the work of Edward Hopper."

For Nathan Rogers-Hancock, writing at Cinespect, Le Havre is "either an homage to the poetic realism of Marcel Carné or a comedy in the tradition of Tati and Iosseliani (that is, a comedy about the intersection of grace and the horror of the world that will come)."

Kaurismäki picks his Criterion top ten, which is actually more like his top couple of dozen.

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My full review of this film is here: I’ll be posting full reviews there, capsules at Hammer To Nail. Thanks for the amazing work as always, David! So nice to be included here. —Tom Hall
Ah, thanks, Tom. Sorry I missed the full review earlier, but I’ve switched out the links now. Thanks again!
I put up some clips from the film over here on CriterionCast, if anyone is interested:

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