By William Wolf

TORONTO INTERNAIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2011--LE HAVRE  Send This Review to a Friend

It is an odd combination but it works. Producer-writer-director Aki Kaurismaki is Finnish, but with “Le Havre” he is in a nostalgic mood of reverence for charming, earthy French films of the past, notably the kind made by Jean Renoir and Marcel Pagnol in the 1930s. Among the best of the films shown at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, “Le Havre” captures the warmth and spirit evident in those slice-of-life dramas that were well acted and had something to say about the human condition.

Kaurismaki smoothly slips into the old style with a story that has heart, reflects every day life and is resolved without undue fanfare or melodrama.and unfolds with enviable simplicity. The characters involve us and seem very true to reality. The director and his cinematographer, Timo Salminen, enrich the drama with the visual ambience of the port city Le Havre.

The story concerns Idrissa, a boy who hails from Gabon and is in France illegally. Blondin Miguel plays him most sympathetically, and we can feel for his plight as he faces he danger of being caught and deported. He is befriended by Marcel, who earns his living shining shoes and is portrayed by André Wilms, who can get in trouble himself if he tries to help the lad get safely to England.

We are privy to Marcel’s home life, with his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) being struck with an illness that is life-threatening. That plot aspect is approached with tenderness and a touch of faith. Another key character is a detective, played by Jean Pierre Darroussin, who is on the alert for illegal immigrants.

Remember Jean-Pierre Léaud of all those Truffaut films? He is present in a small role, looking so much older of course. But Kaurismaki reaches back to the earlier period by naming Marcel’s wife Arletty, who starred in France’s great 1940s masterpiece “Children of Paradise.” (I interviewed Arletity in her later years when she was blind and still regarded as an icon of French cinema.)

The director’s affinity with the past is evident by the way in which his work is attuned to the bygone movies that inspired him. To his credit, the result works well as contemporary entertainment. A Janus Films release.

  

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