LE HAVRE (Aki Kaurismäki, 2011)
Victor Borge Hall, Scandinavia House
58 Park Ave. at 38th St.
Friday, January 6, $12, 6:30
Series runs January 4-9
For nearly thirty years, Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki (Leningrad Cowboys Go America, The Man Without a Past) has been making existential deadpan black comedies that are often as funny as they are dark and depressing. Has there ever been a film as bleak as 1990’s The Match Factory Girl, in which a young woman (Kati Outinen) suffers malady after malady, tragedy after tragedy, embarrassment after embarrassment, her expression never changing? In his latest film, the thoroughly engaging Le Havre, Kaurismäki moves the setting to a small port town in France, where shoeshine man Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a self-described former Bohemian, worries about his seriously ill wife (Outinen) while trying to help a young African boy (Blondin Miguel), who was smuggled into the country illegally on board a container ship, steer clear of the police, especially intrepid detective Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), who never says no to a snifter of Calvados. Adding elements of French gangster and WWII Resistance films with Godardian undercurrents — he even casts Jean-Pierre Léaud in a small but pivotal role — Kaurismäki wryly examines how individuals as well as governments deal with illegal immigrants, something that has taken on more importance than ever amid the growing international economic crisis and fears of terrorism. Through it all, Marcel remains steadfast and stalwart, quietly and humbly going about his business, deadpan every step of the way. Wouter Zoon’s set design runs the gamut from stark grays to bursts of color, while longtime Kaurismäki cinematographer Timo Salminen shoots scene after scene with a beautiful simplicity. Winner of a Fipresci critics award at Cannes this year and Finland’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Le Havre, the first of a proposed trilogy, is another marvelously unusual, charmingly offbeat tale from a master of the form. A selection of the 2011 New York Film Festival, Le Havre is screening January 6 at 6:30 as part of the “Nordic Oscar Contenders” series at Scandinavia House, which begins January 4 with Pernilla August’s Swedish entry, Svinalängorna (Beyond), and concludes January 9 with Anne Sewitsky’s Norwegian drama Sykt lykkelig (Happy, happy).