The story of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's latest work takes place in Le Havre, a port city in north-western France. A former Bohemian artist Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) makes a living as a shoeshine with his Vietnamese assistance Chang (Quoc Dung Nguyen). He may not be rich, but with his loving wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) his life is not bad.
One day Marcel meets Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), a young refugee boy from Gabon running away from the police. While Marcel decides to raise money so that the boy can meet his mother in London, Arletty, ill and now in the hospital, conceals a fact that she knows would shock her husband.
The theme of "Le Havre" overlaps that of a 2009 French film "Welcome," but Kaurismäki's approach is less political, focusing the everyday life of ordinary people, described with Kaurismäki's deadpan humor/sentimentality. Kaurismäki's longtime photographer Timo Salminen's careful use of muted colors is another plus, adding a realistic touch to the modern-day fable.
André Wilms (who 20 years ago played "Marcel," a down-and-out artist in Paris in Kaurismäki's "La Vie de Bohème") turns in quiet and understated performance as the aged shoe shiner determined to do something for the boy. Kati Outinen, the director's muse since the 1980s, is also outstanding as the protagonist's ailing wife, and so is Jean-Pierre Darroussin as Monet, softer version of Inspector Javert trying to catch the boy.
I like the film for its positive, life-affirming message, though I for one prefer such films as "The Man without a Past" and "Ariel," in which darker events happen and characters have to struggle more. Perhaps with an exception of cameo Jean-Pierre Léaud, there is no "villain" in "Le Havre," which marks a new phase in the respected director's long career.