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Le Havre: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

In this warmhearted comic yarn from Aki Kaurismaki, fate throws the young African refugee Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) into the path of Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms), a kindly old bohemian who shines shoes for a living in the French harbor city Le Havre. With inborn optimism and the support of his tight-knit community, Marcel stands up to the officials doggedly pursuing the boy for deportation. A political fairy tale that exists somewhere between the reality of contemporary France and the classic French cinema of the past, Le Havre is a charming, deadpan delight and one of the Finnish director’s finest films. 

Film 

Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) is a shoe shiner by trade and he sets up base at the local airport and wherever else he can getaway with setting up. His job is severely menial in that the modern world no longer needs shoe shiners, because people dress much more casually when they travel that they don’t need a shoe shiner to shine their shoes. Of course one of the few people that actually needs their shoes shined may be a fugitive or spy of some sort. Randomness is the recurring theme in Le Havre.

On one fateful day out in the docks by the harbor a crate loaded with African immigrants is found and the passenger cargo are all detained and set to be deported. All but one. Young refugee Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) escapes and is discovered by Marcel one unremarkable day as he’s having his lunch by the water. Without hesitation, Marcel takes the young boy into his home and clothes and feeds him. Prior to that episode, Marcel’s wife was hospitalized due to a serious illness. And even prior to that, Marcel bummed some drinks and eats from his local friends that run a bar, bakery, and produce stand. They’re his friends, but they can get a little annoyed at Marcel for always being broke and partaking of their goods. Marcel has a few outstanding tabs if you get my meaning.

To make matters worse, young Idrissa is being pursued by a mysterious agent hellbent on capturing him and sending him back to his native land. In between all of this madness we will get to see a dwarf rock star, a Chinese (Vietnamese) shoe shiner, and many other interesting characters going about their daily lives.

Le Havre is a multi-genre type of film that has many themes running through it. It’s not a hard film to follow at all, but there are many situations that you’ve probably seen in films that were actually based off of those themes. Marcel is insanely likable even though he speaks very little and sometimes does so in a very riddle-like manner. He’ll have the habit of answering questions with another question or answering a statement with another statement. Even when joking he keeps a straight face. Idrissa also has a very powerful presence – due to his eyes. They’re always fixed, but filled with fear and caution.

Watching Le Havre was like watching a new-wave film co-directed by Terry Gilliam. The city was modern, but everyone seemed to be stuck in a sort of time warp. The cars were old, the phones were even older rotary ones, etc. What transcended everything was Marcel and how far he would go to get Idrissa where he needed to be and how Marcel’s community stood behind him even though he’s of limited means – considering his wife was also in the hospital.

Le Havre is a masterpiece of a film and I am so glad that I discovered it Blu-ray. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Video

Le Havre is presented in is original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format. Approved by director Aki Kaurismaki, this new high-definition digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm interpositive. Minor scratches and dust were removed using Image Systems’ Nucoda and Autodesk’s Flame.

The video presentation is aesthetically spot on. the director went for a look that harkened back to the 60’s even though the film takes place in modern times. The color palette takes on an almost pastel/water-color look to it. Colors are bold, grain is present and remains even throughout. Edge enhancement is absent and contrast levels remain steady and never look boosted or run hot. The same goes for black levels – they remain at level and never crush. Certain color patterns do look washed out a bit, but it doesn’t ruin the overall effect of what the director was going for.

Audio

This film features a fully digital 5.1 surround soundtrack. The audio for this release was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.

The audio on the hand is a treat for the senses. Sure, it’s a dialogue driven film, but this is a French film, so you know lots of variables will be incorporated into the film like music, dialogue, dynamic situations and what not. Marcel’s baritone voice is clearly captured by the center channel and is crystal clear. He may be a man of a few words, but the center channel handles the decoding quite nicely. Things kick up during the rockin’ performance by Little Bob in the latter part of the film. Ambient sounds can be heard through the rear channels, and the front right and left channels handle the busy ruckus at the airport and throughout the city where Marcel works. It’s a near reference track no doubt.

Extras  

Le Havre has several extras worthy of the Blu-ray format – the only drawback is that their not as extensive or long all things considered. They’re entertaining nonetheless. We get footage from the 2011  Cannes Film Festival in which the cast panel has some fun with the reporters covering the event. It become a hilarious free for all as everyone talks over everyone. The interview with lead actor Andre Wilms is pretty awesome and hysterical. He’s a salty old bird even though he’s not that old. Hard living I suspect. It’s in English, too. Funny stuff. If you get to watch the whole movie all the way through you will have seen a very interesting character named Little Bob. The special features include his full and uncut performance from Le Havre -it’s a pretty rockin’ song, too. A Finnish interview with actress Kati Outinen from 2011 tops it off.

  • New interview with actor Andre Wilms
  • Footage from the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, including a press conference and  French television interview with cast and crew
  • Finnish television interview with actress Kati Outinen from 2011
  • Concert footage of Little Bob, the musician featured in the film
  • Trailer
  • A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Sicinski and a 2011 conversation between Kaurismaki and film historian Peter von Bagh

Summary

Le Havre is a spectacular film featuring terrific performances all the way around. Andre Wilms is especially amazing as Marcel Marx, a man of a few words. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray features stellar video and audio and adequate special features. Whether you’re into foreign films or not is irrelevant, Le Havre IS what film is all about, in my opinion. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll cheer for the good guys. Dock into Le Havre as soon as possible!

 

 

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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