Color, 2011, 93m.
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
Starring André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel, Elina Salo, Little Bob, Pierre Étaix, Jean-Pierre Léaud
Criterion (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Artificial Eye (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Pyramide (Blu-Ray & DVD) (France RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DTS-HD 5.1
Content to live his life modestly by shining shoes and enjoying wine, aging writer Marcel (Wilms) lives in the sunny French harbor city of Le Havre with his wife, Arletty (Outinen), and their loyal dog. One day a shipload of illegal African immigrants is found at the docks, and seemingly all of them are taken away. However, down in the water under the docks he sees a young boy, Idrissa (Miguel), who just wants to find a way to reunite with his mother in London. With the police still investigating and the town busybody looking for trouble, Marcel bands together with some of his neighbors to use whatever means necessary -- including a makeshift rock concert! -- to help the boy finish his journey.
A dual prize winner at Cannes in 2011, Le Havre is perhaps the most accomplished film from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, a familiar name from a pair of Criterion's Eclipse multi-film sets in the past including his most internationally well-known film, Leningrad Cowboys Go America. That one echoes a bit here in the most colorful segment, a live performance by rockabilly French act Little Bob.
Some nods to French cinema history are present and accounted for, too, such as small roles for Francois Truffaut alter ego Jean-Pierre Léaud and rediscovered actor/auteur Pierre Étaix. The political aspects of France's immigrant situation are obviously front and center here (and by extension similar concerns in other countries including the United States), with the depiction of humanity being rewarded for helping out its lowliest members culminating in a particularly poetic final scene that drives the point home with charming simplicity. It's a humanist film in the truest sense and a very accessible way to introduce any newbie viewers to the joys of European filmmaking.
Released first on both Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK and France, Le Havre gets its most elaborate and easily recommended presentation from Criterion. The Blu-Ray looks terrific as expected, with the bright photography rendered with perfect clarity. The DTS-HD 5.1 French audio (with optional English subs, of course) isn't exactly a multi-channel powerhouse given the nature of the actual movie, but it sounds very clear and has some minor separation effects in the outdoor and music performance scenes.
The liner notes booklet has a couple of substantial features, "Always Be a Human" (a Michael Sicinski essay about the film's placement in the director's body of work) and a director interview with Peter Von Bagh, covering his thoughts on sticking with 35mm, his intentions for this form the first part of a European trilogy shot in multiple countries, and his thoughts on the state of modern human society. Video extras kick off with a long and essentially unedited presentation of the cast and crew's press conference at the Cannes Film Festival (in a mixture of English and translated French), plus a French TV interview from the same period which brings the running time up to 46 minutes. Wilms also appears for a new 14-minute, English interview for Criterion in which he talks about working with the director on their multiple films together, while Outlinen is represented with a TV interview for the Finnish program Mansikkapapaikka. Best of all, the incredible Little Bob (still with red leather jacket) pops up for a pair of raucous stage numbers performed in the real Le Havre.