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Le Havre

Le Havre
Saturday November 19th, 2011

The northern French port city of Le Havre is the setting for this moving little film about a poor, aged shoeshiner who takes pity on Idrissa, a young African boy (Blondin Miguel), fleeing deportation by French authorities. Andre Wilms is Marcel Marx who ekes out a minimal existence by wandering the streets picking up the occasional shoe shine job. He shares a small apartment with his devoted wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) who is worried about her failing health a fact she doesn't disclose to Marcel.

To those who wonder why he is risking criminal prosecution by sheltering an illegal immigrant Marcel responds that shoeshining is one of the last professions that still observes the Sermon on the Mount. Andre Wilms is superb as Marcel. Despite his meager possessions and near beggar status his quiet, dignified commitment to charity and compassion bring him into conflict with Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) a relentless French police agent who suspects Marcel of hiding his quarry.

Le Havre is a surprising respite from these fatalistic times. I'm pretty cynical but this film almost brought me to tears. It is Finland's official entry for the 2012 Foreign Language Academy Award.

Aki Kaurismaki's script eschews the maudlin while managing to epitomize the words of Pablo Casals, "each person has a basic decency and takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it".