Marcel (Wilms) is an ageing shoe-shiner in the port city Le Havre, getting no respect from anyone. After his doting wife Arletty (Outinen) ends up in hospital for cancer treatment, Marcel encounters young refugee Idrissa (Miguel), who has escaped from Gabon on his way to meet his mother in London.
While hiding Idrissa from a nosey cop (Darrousin) and a meddling neighbour (Leaud), Marcel gets help from his friends (Salo, Didi, Monnie and Nguyen) and his faithful dog Laika.
Despite the rather serious subject matter, the film has a whimsical quality that feels rather surreal, especially as events play out in the final act. But the plot isn't the point: this is a story about how people from different backgrounds interact in often surprising ways. Despite his loser-like status, everyone knows that Marcel is a good guy. He doesn't see race or nationality as issues, so helping Idrissa comes naturally to him, even if it means breaking the law.
As usual, Kaurismaki uses with vividly colourful sets, characters, camerawork and music that feel like a period film. But the story is hugely current, looking at immigration in Europe from a variety of angles while pitting human compassion against officious border controls and deep-seated prejudice. We never understand why Leaud's neighbour is so tenaciously determined to have Idrissa deported, but we do understand the cop's reluctance to do so. So as we root for Marcel, we hope he'll get some good news from the doctor as a kind of karmic payback.
The film is also extremely mannered, filling the screen with random characters and hilariously strange moments (it opens with an abrupt shooting that's never referred to again). The acting style is deadpan and often monotone; indeed, Laika is the most expressive performer. And no one seems particularly surprised by the twists and turns of fate that come along, taking things in stride, good with bad, while doing the best they can to help each other and perhaps make the world a bit better in the process.
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 8th September 2011
Box Office USA: $0.6M
Distributed by: Janus Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
Fresh: 83 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Aki Kaurismaki
Producer: Aki Kaurismaki
Screenwriter: Aki Kaurismaki
Starring: André Wilms as Marcel Marx, Kati Outinen as Arletty, Blondin Miguel as Idrissa, Elina Salo as Claire, Evelyne Didi as Yvette, Quoc Dung Nguyen as Chang, Jean-Pierre Darroussin as Monet, Jean-Pierre Léaud as Le dénonciateur, Pierre Étaix as Docteur Becker
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