Quirky French offering


Whenever I hear people going on about how much better the world was back in "the good old days", I want to stick them in a time machine and send them back to whatever date they thought was so great.

One of the things I've noticed over the years is that the people in the Western world who bang on about how great things used to be invariably seem to be white, heterosexual men.

You don't often see women, Maori, Pacific Islanders, Asians, Africans, Middle Eastern people, Central Americans, South Americans, people who are gay and people with disabilities pining for the good old days.

And while the economy is a mess and the environment is under seige, I like to think the fact that most people don't want to turn the clock back is a sign of some kind of progress.

Another sign of progress that puts a smile on my face is the way you can now live somewhere like Nelson and still see movies from all over the world.

For example, if you wanted to see a film set in France that is written and directed by a Finn and concerns the issue of illegal immigration from Africa, then you're in luck.

Set in the port city of the same name, Le Havre is a film that should delight fans of quirky, offbeat cinema.

The hero of the piece is a 60-something shoeshine man by the name of Marcel Marx. A former bohemian, Marcel and his devoted wife, Arletty, have a modest lifestyle and live in a small house with their dog, Laika.

Marcel's simple existence gets shaken up when Arletty becomes seriously ill and he meets an illegal immigrant, an African boy named Idrissa.

For reasons that are never explained, Marcel decides to help Idrissa hide from the authorities and then recruits others from the neighbourhood to help.

One thing that quickly becomes clear watching Le Havre, is that writer-director Aki Kaurismaki is a man with a very clear vision of just how his films should look and feel. It is shot in a gloomy pallet and just about everything and everyone in it, with the exception of Idrissa, looks worn out or close to it.

Despite this, it is also full of levity and absurdism that prevents it from ever getting too serious. And while it's theoretically set in the present day, the way characters dress, the places they hang out and the cars they drive, give the impression of it almost happening in an imaginary time where people have cell phones but dress like characters in a Tintin book.

Storywise, it has to be said, there is not a lot going on. At one stage I even wondered if Kaurismaki was getting his actors to occasionally stare into space for no apparent reason to pad out the running time.

Despite the staring and the quirkier moments, all the actors do a top job and manage to create surprisingly convincing and appealing characters. One reason for this may be the refreshing amount of affection they express for one another.

The neighbourhood Le Havre is set in may not be flash, but the locals clearly like each other, which makes it easy for the audience to like them too.

Bottom line: Absurdist and slight yet satisfying.