The long collaboration between Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismäki (‘Drifting Clouds’, ‘The Man Without a Past’) and his cinematographer Timo Salminen means you can spot a shot from his films a mile off: unsmiling characters will be looking into the distance, shadows will be obvious, colours will be varied but muted and locations will be downbeat. It’s true even of ‘Le Havre’, which is set in the French port of the title rather than Kaurismäki’s usual haunt of Helsinki. This is his second French-language film after 1992's 'La Vie de Bohème' and tells of the efforts of a shabby, big-hearted shoeshiner, Marcel (André Wilms), to shelter Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), an illegal immigrant, from the long arm of the law.
This story emerges as much from the world of cinema as the real: it’s full of suspect men in ill-fitting coats and hats, like extras in ’40s noirs. A detective, Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), sports a black raincoat and gloves and skulks round corners, French acting legend Jean-Pierre Léaud has a bit part as a grass and there’s a musical interlude featuring French rocker Little Bob. You could be forgiven for thinking that the film’s concern for outsiders is buried beneath an arch style and countless insider film nods, but ‘Le Havre’ still emerges as a simple, hopeful and nostalgic portrait of an essentially good community. What really saves ‘Le Havre’ from being too precious, apart from a wicked thread of black humour, is a sense of solidarity between not just the story’s characters, but between them, the filmmaker and us.