Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NYFF 2011: Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre

Slight and non-threatening, just like Kaurismäki typically is (and that is not meant as an insult), this sixteenth feature from the Finnish director (his second film in French), with his dead-pan style (both photographically and in line readings) and the breezy way he can tackle a serious topic (in this case, the problems of refugees and immigration), is a thing of casual beauty.  Bopping along almost as if it is a 93 minute musical number, seamlessly going back and forth between the filmmaker's deftly comic tones and a more morose, occasional backbeat (all put onto film - and not any other media boldy exclaims the filmmaker - by Kaurismäki’s long-time cinematographer, Timo Salminen), Le Havre can stand with, or at least close to, the best of Kaurismäki's cinema.

This is also probably the director's most historically influenced film to date - or at least the most noticeably so.  With obvious nods to Marcel Carne, Rene Clair, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Becker and Francois Truffaut (not to leave out, French actress, singer and all-around icon, Arletty), and without beating us over the head with his evocations like other directors (for better or for worse) have done, Kaurismäki shows his love for cinema, especially French cinema, with the most tender and compassionate of cinematic homages.  Even the strangely ubiquitous Jean-Pierre Léaud shows up in an antagonistic role that, as they say, only he could play.  As we already know of several Kaurismäkiinfluenced directors working today (Jim Jarmusch, Tsai Ming-liang, The Coen Brothers), we now find out (hinted at then, blatantly told here) just which past directors are hidden inside the mind of Aki Kaurismäki.

The film, of course, stars several of Kaurismäki's stable of regulars.  The Bohemian lead character of Marcel Marx (obvious cinematically and politically influenced) is played by French actor André Wilms, who can be seen in the Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses as well as the director's only previous French film, La Vie de Bohème.  Also in the film are Finnish actresses Elina Salo and Kati Outinen - the latter of which, having appeared in almost every one of the director's films, is often seen as Kaurismäki's muse.  Even the director's family dog, Laika makes yet another appearance in one of his master's films.  Incidentally winning a special Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival from the Palm Dog jury (and yes, you read that right - since 2001, a special canine equivalent to the Palme d'Or has been awarded in Cannes - and Laika won the award in 2002 for the Kaurismaki film, Man Without A Past - you can read about the award here).

Anyway, to get off the subject of dogs, and back onto the film in question, Le Havre, with its socially relevant refugee topic (a subject that never goes for the cheap shot theatrics one would sadly expect to see in a mainstream American film of the same story) and its Kaurismäkian bent, will be making its US theatrical debut (via Janus Films, who already have the Criterion Bluray ready for release after its initial run) on October 21, 2011.  It will receive a limited release in NY and LA (Lincoln Plaza Cinema in NY) before, hopefully, getting a wider run shortly thereafter.  A full review of Le Havre will also be making its debut over at The Cinematheque, around this same date. 


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