My short review of Le Havre published online in One Hundred Words magazine [no longer available]:-
To step into an Aki Kaurismaki film is to enter a unique, peculiar, intriguing and quite extraordinary universe. It’s one where dialogue is sparse, acting as muted and inexpressive as possible; where the colours have a distinctly retro feel; there is always a bar and a band; and ‘action’ sequences often take place off camera.
Le Havre – the story of a shoe-shiner who takes charge of a young refugee boy – has all these elements, and is possibly the warmest, most optimistic offering yet from this director.
This is a charming, humane, and elegantly simple film which has a heart-warming potency.
Lana Wilson in Senses of Cinema gets to the heart of Kaurismaki in her excellent essay about the director:-
The uncommon union he forges between social realism and visual stylization, and between dry comedy and warm-hearted humanism, is something Kaurismäki’s actors refer to as “Akiland”, and what American critics delicately describe as “an acquired taste”.
Wilson also pin-points a fascinating contradiction in Kaurismaki’s output. He is someone who clearly has a knowledge and deep love of film – when younger, he and his brother:-
were insatiable cinéphiles and watched five or six films every day at the Finnish Film Archive.
Yet there is a sense in Aki’s films of someone who wants to:-
ridicule … the seriousness and inscrutability of the art house tradition.
For instance, in his typically idiosyncratic films Crime and Punishment, and Hamlet Goes Business he seems to have:-
explicitly mocked the pretensions of highbrow literary adaptations.
Ironically, when The Man Without A Past was a great success
Kaurismäki’s membership in the art cinema Hall of Fame that he had once so mercilessly mocked was fully established.
In truth, his films are beautifully crafted “minimalist comedies” which betray a deep-seated humanism. They tend to:-
[show] the economic hardships and social obstacles facing working-class Finns with compassion and even seriousness, in a style indebted to the warm humanism of Frank Capra. And, while the world encountered by his characters was bleaker than ever, the cinematography grew even more luminous in response, taking his trademark saturated colours, velvety shadows and glowing lights to dazzling new heights.
Le Havre is just the latest instalment in Kaurismaki’s exploration of this humanism.