Sunday, March 18, 2012

Le Havre

While the world as we know today has divided itself in petty ghettoes, where a particular community is rigid and intolerant to accept other cultural vestiges other than its own, it’s heartening to meet people who are ready to take those extra steps to help someone who is in need, not for any particular reason, but because they can help.

Two such European films premiered at last year’s Cannes film festival, ‘The Kid with a Bike’ from Belgium, and ‘Le Havre’ from Finland, though the film is located in a French port. In the heart of both the films is a simple tale of a child in need of a help from an understanding adult when the world has become more and more rigid. These are the common men and women who rise up to the occasion. In ‘The Kid with a Bike’, a motherless boy, who is placed on an orphanage by his father, finds a mother-figure in the unlikely personality of a young hairdresser. ‘Le Havre’, on the other hand, is little more complicated, little more understated.

Marcel is a shoeshine man at the Le Havre station and elsewhere in the city, wherever he gets a customer. He has a friend, a Chinese immigrant, Chang. He has a regular life. He goes for work, then goes to the pub and then comes home to his wife. In his youth, Marcel was a ‘bohemian’, in Paris (That story is told in Kaurismaki’s earlier ‘La Vie de Bohème’, 1992). “Those days I could drink a lot, when I was happy,” he says, and we understand that these days too he won’t mind drinking a lot, if he had the money. But, it’s his wife who manages the money. But, Marcel is content. Then, one day, his wife falls ill, and is admitted to the hospital. His routine disrupted, one day, he goes to the port to have his lunch. There, he sees a young African boy, hiding. The boy asks him if this is London. Marcel says, no. London is on the other end of the sea. This is Normandy. Marcel asks him if the boy is hungry. He nods. But, before he could offer him something to eat, there arrives a policeman, looking for the boy, who has escaped from a container carrying illegal immigrants from somewhere in Africa to London.

If you have seen enough Hollywood movies, you know about illegal immigrants in large containers shipped by mercenaries. (Remember the first ‘Transporter’ movie!) This ship carrying the container was supposed to reach London, but something happened and it landed in Le Havre and a guard discovered that it carried a human cargo. Apparently, the turn of the events is not unusual. After the immigrants are discovered, the authorities take them to a camp and then start the process of deporting them back to their country, something that the human cargo do not want. Now, the boy has run away from the container. His name is Idrissa, his father was a teacher and he was travelling with his grandfather, and though we are not told of the country he’s from, we understand that it’s an East African country; he speaks French.

An act of generosity has far reaching consequences. Soon, Marcel finds that Idrissa has followed him to home, aided by his very friendly dog, Leika. Now, what else Marcel could do, other than to help this poor, lost soul? What he did not anticipate however is how his neighbours and friends are willing to lend their hands. Embolden by this, Marcel, the poor, shoeshine man embarks on a journey, involving a journey to the immigration camp to find the boy’s grandfather, where he collects the boy’s mother’s address in London, and is forced to organize a concert featuring Little Bob, to raise that money. All this, while a dogged policeman is hot on the trail to find the runaway immigrant, and he knows Marcel has something to do with it.

It may not like how the film ends. In a miracle. But, it cannot take away the power of hope that ‘Le Havre’ engenders.

Like Aki Kaurismäki’s earlier and every effective, ‘The Man with No Name’ (2002), ‘La Havre’ unfolds like a stage play. Though the port town is the setting, the scenes are mostly sparse. There are only certain amounts of characters that are required. There are only certain amounts of props that required. The reason perhaps is to keep us engaged with the story at hand. Though the port town lends its name to the film, the film is not about the port, it could be anywhere. It’s about human condition. More specifically, it’s about Marcel Marx and his strange act of kindness.

‘Le Havre’ is a 2011 comedy-drama film written and directed by Aki Kaurismäki, starring André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Blondin Miguel. It tells the story of a shoeshiner who tries to save an immigrant child in the French port city Le Havre. The film was produced by Kaurismäki's Finnish company Sputnik with international co-producers in France and Germany. It is Kaurismäki's second French-language film, after La Vie de Bohème from 1992. More Here.

Le Havre is a city in the Seine-Maritime department of the Haute-Normandie region in France. It is situated in north-western France, on the right bank of the mouth of the river Seine on the English Channel. Le Havre is the most populous commune in the Haute-Normandie region, although the total population of the greater Le Havre conurbation is smaller than that of Rouen. More here.

More on Aki Kaurismäki.

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