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The Man Without a Passport

Le Havre (2011)

Marja-Leena Hukkanen/Janus Films

The illegal-immigration theme has reenergized the careers of several master filmmakers of late, Ken Loach and the Dardennes among them. It’s like adding a new ingredient to a proven recipe and presto. Aki Kaurismäki is the most recent to try his hand, mixing the illegals with his usual ragtag crew of lovable outcasts. While such an experiment hasn’t proven successful for all auteurs, it has definitely worked to Mr. Kaurismäki’s advantage. “Le Havre” is easily the most humanist, generous and hopeful movie in recent memory.

When authorities seize a cargo container full of stowaways from Gabon, the young and exceptionally bright Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) escapes. Shoeshine Marcel Marx (André Wilms) gives refuge to Idrissa, for years of failed artistry, poverty and starvation haven’t mellowed the recusant Marxist in him. Although the neighborhood boulanger (Evelyne Didi) and épicier (François Monnié) normally find the deadbeat Marcel to be a nuisance and avoid him like the plague, they start throwing him freebies just because he’s harboring a fugitive. To raise the 3,000 euros needed to reunite Idrissa with his mother in London, Marcel must convince the cultish real-life francophone rocker Little Bob to throw a benefit concert.

While Mr. Kaurismäki’s characteristic deadpan requires a little getting used to, soon you won’t be able to resist the warmth and drollness of “Le Havre.” This utopian little corner of the universe might not be completely devoid of cynicism, but the kindness of strangers always comes through when needed most. While “Le Havre” is an unabashed fairy tale for adults, it’s not just some kind of liberal claptrap. It actually inspires compassion and renews your faith in humanity. As it concludes amid an orchestral crescendo, one can confidently proclaim this to be the feel great movie of the year.


Opens on Oct. 21 in Manhattan.

Produced, written and directed by Aki Kaurismaki; director of photography, Timo Salminen; edited by Timo Linnasaio; set design by Wouter Zoon; costumes by Fred Cambler; released by Janus Films. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: André Wilms (Marcel Marx), Kati Outinen (Arletty), Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Monet), Blondin Miguel (Idrissa), Elina Salo (Claire), Evelyne Didi (Yvette), Jean-Pierre Léaud (Denouncer), Pierre Étaix (Dr. Becker), Roberto Piazza (Little Bob) and Quoc-Dung Nguyen (Chang).


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