Le Havre (2011) Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
I'm ashamed to admit that we have reviewed over 250 films on this blog in the last three years or so, and here is our first review of a film made by a Finn. This tells me more about myself than any slight against Finnish cinema. I have shown Finnish film the utmost prejudice (an ironic statement considering this picture). As much as I love and try to support the Finnish music scene (and boy, have I tried!), I've had an almost near loathing for the state of Finnish film. In this sense, I'm not even talking about Aki Kaurismäki, a director who I know is great. I have just not seen enough good films made by anyone else who's Finnish that have made much of an impression on me. If people could recommend some recent delights at the bottom of this post, I'd appreciate it and will check them out.
Le Havre meanwhile, surprises on many levels. It's not the interior design (classic) or the slow pace (involving), the simple storytelling (revealing) or just the amazing look of this film (I'd expect nothing less from Aki). Le Havre ultimately deals with misplacement, the other, the outcast, the foreigner and having faith in the one you love understanding what you are doing. And it deals with race. Honestly. That Kaurismäki brings us this now is really prescient. To me, this is a message to Finland. Le Havre shows us compassion, tolerance, understanding. It's a message we need to take in right now, right here.
Le Havre is also funny and tender. The performances are perfect. There is an old school classicism to many of the scenes. Nothing is forced. The references to Finland are everywhere, from the first shot featuring a Nokia wellington, to the Fazer chocolate and so on. So the location maybe France, but it could easily have been Kotka too, so identifiable is this film as Kaurismäki's work. He's convinces me here on many levels . I'd also have Little Bob play my charity event every time. Kaurismäki seamlessly melds the art with the heart. Is it enough to say he IS Finnish cinema right now? This is moving and Le Havre is masterful.
So we live in Finland, but in many ways Nick and I have created a bubble where national borders and culture don't always correlate at all. It's the story of a girl who wanted to get out of here and a man who thought he could pick up Finnish by ear only. It's the story of an everyday life without TV news, The Guardian newspaper as our main source of info about the world events and a lot of discussion on topics relating to what's happening all around the world – not just in our yard. In fact our location has been a little bit ignored by us two.
Like we never watch Finnish movies. We rarely listen to Finnish records (and hey, we make them and help make them in a lot of ways...). I don't read enough literature from Finland and so the list goes on...
And then there's Le Havre, a showstopper that makes us wonder what we've been missing out on.
Le Havre is both universal and specific to Finland simultaneously. It's a fairy tale and a comment on reality. It discusses displacement, it shows what diasphora means now. The movie has a lot of qualities that could be named Finnish, yet it could be from anywhere, because it's that good. You watch it for its story not because you might see a Laitila bottle in the background (sometimes something Finnish becomes a curiosity that's fun to recognize when abroad even though it has no real value).
As an artist Aki Kaurismäki is someone who changes his perspective and lives beyond the stereotypes of nationality (although he sometimes strengthens the stereotypes too). He sees the human individual as a victim of systems and ideologies. He is left-wing too, and someone who spouts out opinions as if they are the absolute truth. He's the Finnish Morrissey in some funny and unfulfilling way. But what ever you want to think of his character, Le Havre is one of those movies that will survive and become a classic in time.