I didn't know anything about Aki Kaurismaki and had never seen one of his films before LE HAVRE, but after sitting through his hilarious and incredibly sweet ode to friendship and community in the titular seaport city of France, consider me an enormous fan.
LE HAVRE evokes the beauty and humanism of French poetic realism and the rose-colored joy of early Rene Clair, but it has a humor and heartbeat that is all its own. Kaurismaki often nods to his film elders, but he never wallows in contrived recreation. The heart and joy of this film is genuine. You sense that Kaurismaki really believes what he shows us. Or at the very least, he believes in not recreating for its own sake, but because he earnestly pines for the community, camaraderie, and human kindness that has often been absent in movies since the Golden Age. What he has created in the process is cinema magic at its most joyous.
The film is unabashedly retro and old-fashioned: the colors are striking yet dulled like 60s techincolor; the apartments look like sets; people still use rotary dials; Marcel is a shoeshiner; there are classical film movie cues for romantic scenes that are actually romantic and sweet. But again this never feels like pure quirkiness of style, but a real desire to inhabit the film world of old because of the way it made you feel and the way it gave you hope. Like with HUGO, in the age of irony and cynical postmodernism, this comes across as the most refreshingly benign and infectiously cheerful palate cleanser you could hope for.
And you know what the most retro and old-fashioned thing about it is? It actually believes in the goodness of humanity. It believes that given the chance people will rise to the occasion, that love, kindness, and teamwork are possible, and most of all, that miracles can happen. And it does it all without a shred of irony. Some may say that it trivializes an important issue like immigration, but I actually think it gives us the best solution we could ever hope for on the isssue: throw away your pretentious seriousness and bullshit cynicism and show some kindness and care to your fellow creatures, no matter what they look like or where they are from. If Kaurismaki wants to cherish the perfect world of classic cinema where everyone comes together he does so only to remind us that what is keeping us apart is only ourselves. Like John Lennon, he's got that big banner waving "War is Over, If You Want It."
The camaraderie this film embraces leads to the greatest sequence in the film and perhaps the greatest moment in any film all year. I cannot even describe to you the absurd joy of watching Marcel and his friends team up to put on a trendy charity concert starring the one and only Little Bob. It's pure bliss. The clip I posted doesn't even do it justice because leading up to it there is a wonderful side plot about reuniting Little Bob with his wife. The whole thing ends up being the most bizarre and downright awesome sequence of the year. All hail Little Bob! Friendship prevails in the end.
I'm running out of things to say because I truly cannot express to you how delightful this film is. I love the deadpan humor and visual gags; the love the pithy, poetic phrases the characters use like "money moves in the shadows"; I love the ballsy ending; I love the actors and all the weird looking characters; I love the compassion, warmth and good heart the film proudly wears on its sleeve. Most of all I love what is ineffable about it. To know what I'm getting at there, you'll just have to see it for yourself. This is one of the best films of the year.