Aki Kaurismäki is not one of those international filmmakers who will ever take mainstream American audiences by storm. Heck, there are published reviews for his avant-garde masterpieces by critics who incorrectly assume he’s Japanese, which should surely serve as a clear indicator as to how much research those who are supposed to be paying attention to films are actually doing. Frankly, though, I’m quite okay with that — as it gives Kaurismäki the opportunity to hold onto that underdog status most foreign filmmaker enjoy prior to the artistic undoing they endure once they — as Kaurismäki would no doubt put it — “Go America.”
Yes, Kaurismäki is alive and well in Finland (where he’s from), and still making films along the same caliber of esoteric greatness as Leningrad Cowboys Go America. His latest opus — 2011’s Le Havre — finds ruggedly chiseled French actor André Wilms reprises his role from La Vie de Bohème as Marcel Marx: a humble shoeshiner (in Le Havre, which is in France) who has reached that point in life where his entire existence has become extremely simple. He owes money to all the local shop and bar owners, but nobody really cares. His adoring wife manages to fix him dinner every night with the meager money he brings in.
And then, one day, a container at the docks is discovered to contain a number of refugees from Gabon (which is also not in Japan), and a young lad by the handle o’ Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) promptly flees into the city. Soon, the authorities — led by an ultimately bored detective (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) — are looking for this boy. Guess who finds him? Marcel, oui. Doing his best to feed and hide the lad, Marcel is soon met with the further burden on his shoulders: his beloved spouse (Kati Outinen) has fallen ill, and he has to raise enough money to pay for her expensive medical treatment. Thankfully, he is able to arrange a musical show with none other than Little Bob (aka Roberto Piazza, as himself) — who is just one of many quirky delights Le Havre has to offer, along with the fact that nobody in the entire film rarely expresses any sort of emotion whatsoever.
Esotericism at its finest.
The Criterion Collection brings us yet another modern classic in a beautiful transfer approved by the Finnish director himself. The presentation is a near-perfect one, boasting solid, lifelike colors and contrast — with extremely fine detail that shows every grizzled hair on Monsieur Wilms noggin in crystal clarity. The French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack brings all of the aural odds and ends Kaurismäki has included here out into the clear Blu day, and the available English subtitles provide us with what appears to be a most proper translation.
Special feature for Le Havre will not find you saying “Le Havre not!” here. First, we get a press conference from Cannes (where the film was met with much praise, and nary a soul thought the film’s director was Japanese), followed by an interview with the cast and their director. Wilms returns for a solo (English) interview recorded especially for this release by Criterion, while actress Outinen is seen in another discussion culled from the Finnish TV show, Mansikkapaikka (say it five times fast). A booklet and the film’s original trailer are also included, but the disc’s standout piece in terms of bonus goodies has to be footage of Little Bob performing two songs live in Le Havre in 2010.
Worth it for that alone.