Friday, October 21, 2011

From that one-of-a-(wonderful)-kind filmmaker: Aki Kaurismäki's LE HAVRE

Is there anyone as consistent -- in subject matter, ideas, theme, style -- as Aki Kaurismäki? I don't think so. Fassbinder comes to mind, but Aki's more enter-taining, if not nearly as intentionally provocative. I think of Robert Guédiguian, too, though in style (and budget) the two filmmakers could hardly be more different. Guédiguian is more overtly political, while Kaurismäki is not (or maybe he just rises above all that). There's a place at the giant film table for all these guys -- and many more -- but Aki has staked out a claim to a tiny parcel that no one else tills. His new film LE HAVRE, set in that mythic yet modest port city of the title, shows him working at capacity while seeming to barely break a sweat.

TrustMovies is not a huge fan of the deadpan style, finding its accent resting too often on the first syllable of the word. Yet nobody uses deadpan as consis-tently or well as Kaurismäki  (shown at right) -- and not simply for the comedic, though he gets plenty of that along the way, too. Note the scene early on in which a huge shipping crate is opened up, as a large mix of police, immi-gration and dock workers watch, waiting. Inside is revealed a horde of African illegals. Neither side moves a muscle, facially or otherwise. Nothing seems to happen for an eternity (movie-time, at least) and yet the scene is absolutely fraught. The viewer lets loose all his emotional baggage onto these people, on both sides, neither of whom shows us anything like an emotion of their own. I can't think of another director who could pull off this unusual use of deadpan so well.

The story here is simple and direct, dealing with subjects both timely and eternal -- immigra-tion, work,  relation-ships, community, life, death, love and "trendy charity concerts" -- and each of them is handled in quite the right way. In the lead role, the filmmaker has chosen an actor, André Wilms, shown at left, who has appeared in some 60-odd films but never, I think, has been as memorable as here. He seems made for the Kaurismäki style.

Wilms is surrounded by actors as diverse as Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen (above, right), the splendid Jean-Pierre Darroussin (below, right), newcomer Blondin Miguel (further below, as the one African illegal we come to know best) and a elderly rock singer Roberto Piazza (known as Little Bob), who plays (and sings) himself.

The entire cast enters wholeheartedly into the odd spirit of the enterprise, so that the filmmaker can deliver his fractured fairy tale of how the world works, Kaurismäki-style. Sure, this is a story of how things ought to be, but it is also a tale of how things could be -- if only we learned to better prioritize.

Le Havre, another in the fairly rare collection of new movies to be distributed by that old-reliable Janus Films, opens today in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the IFC Center and in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Royal, Claremont Five, Encino Town Center Five and Pasadena Playhouse 7. Click here to view all the presently scheduled screenings of the film nationwide, through the end of the year.

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