Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Le Havre

An ageing shoeshine, Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) takes in a young African boy, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) after he escapes from a ship’s cargo container in the French port of Le Havre. Despite Marcel’s lack of money and sadness that his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) is gravely ill in hospital, he does all he can to reunite the young migrant with his mother who has settled in London.

Le Havre had an olden feel to it which permeated the whole film. The location, costume, cars, and ambience gave the impression that it was set in the late 1960s or early 1970s. You get the idea that the world has moved on and forgotten people like Marcel who sits outside the station waiting to shine shoes, looking down at people’s feet to see mostly trainers and looking up at faces to see mostly aversion in people’s eyes. You also get the sense that like many port cities, Le Havre is also a city that has been left behind. Marcel’s neighbourhood in particular has an almost Dickensian air about it with a small bakery, grocery shop and narrow streets lined by small, dilapidated houses. The arrival of a young African boy in to the mix spices up the area and adds a sense of rejuvenation, bringing the community together.

The plot is tinged with sadness as first you see Marcel struggling to make a living, returning with only a few Euros after a hard day and then his wife’s illness which forces her to spend most of the film in hospital. Idrissa’s life is similarly depressing having been forced to spend weeks inside a pitch black cargo container on a dangerous trip from Africa in the hope of being reunited with his mother only to find himself on the wrong side of the Channel and wanted by the Police. It is the coming together of the unlikely twosome which brings vigour to both characters. The story is sweet but lacks an edge which maintained my interest. It is very slow and not as funny as I’d heard it would be.

One thing I liked about Le Havre was its attitude towards European migration. It’s a contentious subject in Western Europe and here in the UK especially where newspapers, politicians and most ordinary people seem to fear the influx of ‘foreigners’ seemingly forgetting that firstly, Britain is an island so we were all ‘foreigners’ once and secondly, they had no say in where they were born themselves. I’ve never understood the sense of superiority that certain people have, based solely in where their mother happened to have them. This film appears to share a similar idea and backs it up with Marcel’s determination to help a young boy who just wants a better life. It isn’t Idrissa’s fault that he was born into a country with high unemployment and low life expectancy so Marcel’s decision to help him try to better himself as well as reunite him with his family seem like the logical and humane choice. There are of course those who disagree with this but I was pleased to see that an important character that had the potential to stop them, didn’t.

Although the film suits my politics and was a ‘nice’ film, it wasn’t exactly special. The acting was quite stilted in places but I couldn’t determine whether it was intentional or not. At times it was so bad that I assumed it must have been. Andre Wilms is very good though. In the end Le Havre is a pleasant film with an enjoyable and heart-warming story about self sacrifice and ‘love thy neighbour’ which harks back to a time now lost.   


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