| Finland’s official entry for an Oscar in the foreign language film category revolves around simple acts of human kindness to reunite an illegal African boy with his mother.
Except for Finnish born writer-director Aki Kaurismaki and lead actress Kati Outinen, everything else about this low budget art house film is French. The movie is set in the French port city of the title located in the northwest Brittany region. The majority of the cast are French actors speaking their native language.
The movie’s central character is Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms), an elderly shoe shiner, who barely makes ends meet by selling his services to passengers at a train station or passersby a busy street corner outside a men’s high fashion clothing store.
One day while eating his lunch near the docks, Marcel notices an African teenager hiding in the water. He assumes the boy might be hungry so he leaves part of his sandwich and some fruit in a paper sack.
The boy named Idrissa (Blondin Miguel in his screen debut) later follows Marcel home. By accident, Idrissa ended up in Le Havre rather than London. He was smuggled by ship inside a container filled with illegal immigrants from Gabon. He faces deportation if caught by police inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). Marcel takes pity on the boy and with the help of the nice people throughout the neighborhood comes up with a plan to outwit the authorities and reunite Idrissa with his mother, who is living in London.
Marcel is married to Arletty (Outinen). She is the dutiful wife who manages the family finances. She always has dinner ready whenever Marcel comes home. Shortly before Idrissa shows up, Arletty goes to the hospital in terrible pain. It turns out she has stomach cancer. She gets her doctor to promise not to tell Marcel the seriousness of her condition.
This simple slice-of-life story brings home the altruistic message of doing a good deed for a fellow human being. As Oscar Schindler from “Schindler’s List” said, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”
Kaurismaki is known for his deadpan dry humor and a fatalism philosophy that events of the world are predetermined. His past work includes Finland’s only previous Oscar nominee “The Man Without a Past” (2002).
The movie has an implausible fairy tale ending and an odd concert sequence from French rocker Little Bob (Roberto Piazza).
Besides the four principal characters, the supporting cast makes an impression playing a grocer, a baker, a tavern owner and Marcel’s best buddy from Vietnam. It also doesn’t hurt to have the well-trained canine Laika as Marcel’s trusty companion.
The movie premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and won the FIPRESCI Prize. It recently won the 69th annual Louis Delluc Prize at a ceremony in Paris beating high-profile contenders including “The Artist” and France’s official Oscar submission “Declaration of War.” The latter honor is a good indicator for the Cesar awards considered the French equivalent to the Academy Awards
This offbeat crowd-pleasing film has been a favorite on the festival circuit. It has also garnered nominations at the European Film Awards and the BFCA Critics’ Choice Awards.
The dialogue is in French with English subtitles. The movie never wears out its welcome with an efficient 93-minute running time. It opens exclusively for a limited engagement at the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"