Aki Kaurismaki and the Cinematic Meal

The following piece is based on notes I wrote for a lecture I delivered in my friend Sara Vaux’s “Cinematic Meal” class at Northwestern University. It is the second such lecture I’ve given (following my “John Ford and the Cinematic Meal” talk a few years ago).


Le Havre, a film I first had the pleasure of seeing at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2011, is a sweet and gentle comedy set in the French seaport town of the title. Although Le Havre is a French production, its writer and director is the Finnish Aki Kaurismaki, a true “citizen of the world” whose deadpan comedies and road movies have frequently earned him comparisons to Jim Jarmusch and Iceland’s Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. The film is something of a tribute to the history of French cinema: it features cameos by French screen legends Jean-Pierre Leaud and Pierre Etaix, and characters who are pointedly named “Marcel,” “Arletty” and “Becker,” not to mention that the town of Le Havre itself is the destination of the barge in L’atalante. The most surprising thing about Le Havre, however, might be just how sweet and gentle it is in comparison to the rest of Kaurismaki’s filmography. While the Finn has made many humorous movies going back to the 1980s, when he first established his international reputation, there has frequently been a misanthropic quality to much of his work. His particular brand of comedy is bitter, bleak and what one might term, at the risk of geographical stereotyping, “quintessentially Scandinavian.” (To give but one example, when asked why he rarely moved the camera in his movies, Kaurismaki responded that he was frequently hungover and that moving the camera would make him sick.) Although this trademark deadpan humor is still present in Le Havre, it’s more sweet here than bitter, and there’s a sense that the director, who was 53-years-old when he made it, has mellowed over time.


Something that I didn’t notice until watching Le Havre for a second time, via Criterion’s terrific Blu-ray release, is the prominent role that food plays in the film. Meals have a certain symbolic resonance throughout the narrative as a result of Kaurismaki’s continually associating them with two things: community and matrimony. The main storyline in Le Havre concerns a bohemian shoeshiner named Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms in a reprise of his character from 1992’s La Vie de Boheme) who hides and aids a young illegal immigrant from Africa named Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), a political refugee trying to make his way to England. (We never learn exactly from where or what Idrissa’s fleeing — characterization here, as in much of Kaurismaki, is archetypal.) The very first time that Marcel meets Idrissa, Marcel asks him, “Are you hungry?” and offers the boy a sandwich. From that point on, not only Marcel but virtually everyone in the neighborhood where he lives will help to hide Idrissa from the French immigration authorities who are trying to capture and deport him. Two of the primary themes of the film then are racism and xenophobia and how they manifest themselves on an institutional level (e.g., through the government and the media). Kaurismaki also shows, with much humor and good cheer, how those bureaucratic institutions can ultimately be triumphed over on a local, neighborhood, human level: the vision of community Kaurismaki presents is a kind of fantasy-tinged utopia. Crucially, two of the people who are instrumental in coming to Marcel’s aid are a woman who owns a local bakery and a man who owns a local grocery store. Both of these characters are explicitly associated with food and are responsible for helping to feed and hide Idrissa.


The grocer and baker characters in Le Havre are essentially the opposite of the unhelpful grocer in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul — a German man who deliberately refuses to help the titular Moroccan immigrant (El Hedi ben Salem) by pretending that he cannot understand his request for margarine. Fassbinder’s message, which was very timely in 1974, was that a lot of contemporary Germans were pretending that the racist attitudes that drove the Nazi ideology of the past were obsolete but, in reality, they had just learned to bury such attitudes beneath the surface of a more superficially polite society. The deliberately contrived love story at the center of Fassbinder’s film — concerning Ali and Emma (Brigitte Mira), the much older German cleaning lady who marries him — was merely a tool that the director used in order to force his characters to reveal prejudices that would have otherwise remained hidden. Kaurismaki’s methodology and message in Le Havre are the opposite. The Finn is saying that, although elements of the contemporary French government and media may be racist — by equating immigrants with terrorists — when ordinary people come together face-to-face on a local level, they can be better than that. One French newspaper in the film idiotically claims that the young Idrissa may be “armed and dangerous” and “have connections to Al Qaeda.”  But Marcel, whose innocuous shoe-shining gets him labeled a “terrorist” by an irate shopkeeper, protects the innocent boy by lying to the police. “I am doing my duty,” Marcel tells the police inspector (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), sincerely adding, “I love society.”


One thing that I’ve learned over the past six years of being married is that the concept of a meal takes on a whole new meaning between a husband and wife. Eating is probably the single activity one spends the most time engaged in with one’s spouse. As a result of both preparing and consuming so many meals together, married couples often end up forging a kind of collective culinary taste. (My wife, for instance, was a vegan and I was a carnivore when we first met. We both eventually compromised and became dairy-and-egg-consuming vegetarians.) In Le Havre, there is a subplot that parallels the main plot involving Marcel’s relationship with his wife, the aforementioned Arletty (Kati Outinen), who is hospitalized early on with an unspecified debilitating illness. Their marriage is old-fashioned in the sense that Marcel works and Arletty is a homemaker. It is significant that both times Kaurismaki shows Arletty at home before she’s taken to the hospital, she is stricken with what look like stomach pains while preparing Marcel’s dinner. Marcel is not present on either occasion because he’s at the corner bar, a kind of “boys will be boys” scenario with which both husband and wife — who are depicted as being deeply and genuinely in love — are more than comfortable. Which brings me to the final point I’d like to make about Le Havre: the rituals of consuming alcohol and tobacco are arguably even more important to Marcel than consuming food. In order to explain this particular proletarian/bohemian mindset, I’d like to quote from the great Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel (who himself directed many of his best movies in France):


To continue this panegyric on earthly delights, let me just say that it’s impossible to drink without smoking. I began to smoke when I was sixteen and have never stopped. My limit is a pack a day. I’ve smoked absolutely everything but am particularly fond of Spanish and French cigarettes (Gitanes and Celtiques especially) because of their black tobacco.

If alchohol is queen, then tobacco is her consort. It’s a fond companion for all occasions, a loyal friend through fair weather and foul. People smoke to celebrate a happy moment, or to hide a bitter regret. Whether you’re alone or with friends, it’s a joy for all the senses. What lovelier sight is there than that double row of white cigarettes, lined up like soldiers on parade and wrapped in silver paper? If I were blindfolded and a lighted cigarette placed between my lips, I’d refuse to smoke it. I love to touch the pack in my pocket, open it, savor the feel of the cigarette between my fingers, the paper on my lips, the taste of tobacco on my tongue. I love to watch the flame spurt up, love to watch it come closer and closer, filling me with its warmth . . .

Finally, dear readers, allow me to end these ramblings on tobacco and alcohol, delicious fathers of abiding friendships and fertile reveries, with some advice: Don’t drink and don’t smoke. It’s bad for your health.

You can watch the trailer for Le Havre via YouTube below:

About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

46 responses to “Aki Kaurismaki and the Cinematic Meal

  • Annie Oakley

    I greatly enjoyed most of Aki’s films but I have to say that this one let me down. I didn’t like the atmosphere that was created and the story line bored me. Another one of those instances where I just seem to be the only one who dislikes yet another film considered to be a masterpiece I suppose, nice write up it’s very informative.

  • 結婚祝いプレゼント 相場 友人

    親兄弟なら50万くらい 親戚でもいとこあたりで3万だせばかなりもんだぞ
    今度兄弟がハワイ挙式やるんだが、ご祝儀無しで渡航滞在費一部負担してねと言われてたが最近になり、聞いてた額の四倍自腹で来いと言われて腹立つわ 結婚指輪 相場

    お車代くらいだすもんだけど、そこは礼儀でしょ。 子供が嫁と喧嘩して、言い分が正しいからと子供を庇おうものなら 結婚できない男 視聴率
    今までに付き合ったひとは4人。1度の恋愛期間は、最長2年でした。 俺のトーク力をもってすればイージーイージー

  • リファレンス


  • Irfan Makani

    Le Havre is the first French film I’ve ever seen. I really enjoyed watching this masterpiece. It displays how a poor man (Marcel Marx) refuses to give up on the goodness in the world. He works as a shoeshiner and is unfortunate to learn that his wife, Arletty, is sick and needs to be taken to the hospital. One afternoon by the dock, he comes across a refugee named Idrissa. Couple days later, he returns to the dock to leave some food and money for the mysteries refuge. Once Idrissa reaches Marcel’s home, Marcel serves him food again. I agree that food plays an important part in the film. It depicts how Marcel is a good man who wants to help others. Also, the film constantly shows Marcel inside a bar drinking with the bar owner. One could assume that people who often spend their nights at bars are not very responsible. However, Marcel with the help of his friend Chang and others, is able to transport Idrissa to the ship to lead him home. This seemed hard to do as long as the strict inspector Monet was around. Monet appears to be on a mission to find the missing refuge so he can handle him. However, as I payed close attention to the movie, I remembered that when Idrissa was initially running away from his assigned location one of Monet’s policemen was going to shoot him, however, Monet stopped this from happening. This made me feel that Monet is not the villain of the story. Some of the movies that I’ve seen include a scene when the bad guy turns good or realizes that he is wrong and decides to save the day. This character gave me that kind of appearance, especially during the end when he sits on the cabinet that Idrissa is hiding in so the police won’t be able to find him. At the very end, I liked how Arletty was miraculously cured. This leads me to believe that good things happen to those who do good.

  • Ivona Jesic

    Le Havre really beautiful French movie made by Aki Kaurismaki. I very much enjoyed watching this movie which carries a very strong message about kindness. Starting from a background which usually contains a small spectrum of colors which are mostly blue, black, gray, red, as well as yellow, give the unique and special touch to this movie. Marcel Marx old fashioned man whose trademarks are wine and tobacco show great personality and one kind soul. Marcel is not the only person with this characteristic. Kindness is actually trademark for his neighborhood and specially allocated are Chang, Yvette, and Grocer. Who were there to help. Main reason that reunited these neighbors is to help illegal African immigrant Idrissa hide from the police, provide food for him and at the end reunite him with his mother in England. In addition, Marcel was married to the beautiful lady called Arletty which in this movie, unfortunately, was sick but how the doctor said miracle or maybe just the samples as karma give her way out of illness and she was healthy again. Authors idea in this movie is to show us one political problem and how really that problem should be solved. Also, his message for the audience is to “Always be human”.

  • brad fagan

    Aki Kaurismaki is asking each and every person why should society dictate what is right and what is wrong. The main character, Marcel Marx, is a free thinker. He is a member of what his name sake refers to as the proletariat. Marcel come across, Idrissa, a poor African boy, sidetracked in Le Havre with other likeminded people fleeing a war-torn country in search of a new life in Great Britain. Idrissa represents all people forced to leave their friends and family and migrate abroad to avoid economic and political repression.
    Marcel is a hard working self-employed street smart working man trying to make ends meet shining shoes in the port city of Le Havre. He symbolizes all those brave individuals throughout history that have risen up against economic, political and social injustice. All of Marcel Marx’s neighbors seem to be in the same boat. They earn their living providing fresh bread, groceries, and serving food and drink to most everyone living in a dilapidated area within the old town. Marcel has a one on one relationship with most everyone he comes in contact with. He lives in a world without cell phones, computers or even television sets. A world where the average working person believes that if he or she works hard and plays by the rules things will get better. Nevertheless, every member the proletariat is extremely aware of the economic and political forces which have control over their very existence.
    Kaurismaki focuses on human relationships utilizing shades of blue and gray to portray Marcel’s loving wife, Artelly— who was diagnosed with a mysterious “incurable” disease. Marcel also feels personally responsible for Idrissa, a harmless young man that literally finds himself up to his neck in water. Most of all we witness how Marcel steps up to the plate. He realizes that everyone person has an obligation to try to make the world a better place. The people living in Le Havre evoke a feeling of nostalgia which is predicated upon accepting a sense of moral responsibility to assist those individuals that are most vulnerable.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Great point about the lack of modern technology in the film. This is one of the many deliberately “unrealistic” touches and a good illustration of Jean-Luc Godard’s pronouncement that the cinema substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desires. 10/10

  • Quin Siegel

    Le Havre is a light-hearted and charming film about a community’s attempt to hide a refugee and send him on his way to London. The boy’s name is Idrissa and he is coming from Africa to find his mother in London.
    The director, Aki Kaurismaki, gives the film a very left wing, almost marxist, agenda. The plot is based in illegal immigration and the ideal that humans should not have borders and that one should be allowed to go wherever one pleases. This can be seen in a short section of the film when the news station shows a No Borders protest that was currently going on at the time. Marcel’s last name is of course Marx as well.
    Kaurismaki is driving a point that community is what is most important. One can see this when the neighbors, that consider Marcel to basically be a thief with a very long tab, start giving him food to help feed Idrissa. They overcome their slights and come together as a community to help a fellow migrant on his journey. This can also be seen when Marcel says, “I love society”.
    Le Havre also seems to mock government in a few scenes throughout the film. The first scene I noticed was when the man on patrol hears a crying baby in a storage unit. They decided they need an entire swat team with loaded automatic weapons based on the sound of a crying baby. Along with the fact they have an entire swat team with automatic weapons, a young boy manages to run away from them somehow. Kaurismaki’s deadpan humor never seems to fail to deliver on scenes like this.
    Marcel’s wife, Arletty, also tells the doctor that she must lie to Marcel and not let him know the truth to her illness. The doctor then tells her, “I will talk like a politician”. In other words, the doctor is going to lie to Marcel.

  • Dakota D

    When I watch films I find myself spending more time paying attention to the cinematography and direction rather than the driving plot of the film. One thing that I liked about this film was how Kaurismaki focuses on is facial expressions. In modern films, you can be hard pressed to find action and reaction scenes that do not have fast cuts. Most of the time I don’t find myself able to process what is happening because by the time I have figured it out the director has cut onto something new. Kaurismaki does not do this, instead he spends time focusing on people’s reactions. He forces the audience to see and come to terms with the expressions and feelings that the people in his film are experiencing. Two scenes come to mind that demonstrate this style. The first is our first viewing of Idrissa and the other immigrants. As the police open the shipping container we are met with a wide frame of its passengers. Instead of cutting to Idrissa running from the container Kaurismaki makes his way around the container making us focus on the immigrant’s facial expressions. From this he makes us feel the struggle that they are going through. We have time to understand how hard it is to find and travel to a new life and what it means for them to be found illegally in France. The second scene that stuck in my mind was when Monet entered the café. The camera moves around the room from Monet to the patrons in the bar focusing on the people expressions. Once again he makes us feel what is happening in the room. For instance, we can see the discomfort that Monet feels inside of the café and in turn we begin to feel that discomfort as well. Our discomfort is justified when we find out that Monet was the one who had placed the café owners wife behind bars and everyone there knew about it. One more place this happens is when the film opens. We are in a station with people walking through the hallways in front of Marcel Marx and Chang. As they walk past the shoe shines we see Marcel and Chang’s eyes follow their feet, in prospects to finding a customer. The camera then focuses on the feet walking by them so that we may see what they see, hoping to find someone who’s shoes look dirty and scuffed. This theme reoccurs several times both with Marcel and Idrissa later on in the film. When Idrissa is brought into Marcel’s world we can see him taking up the tasks in the house. He washes the dishes and shines Marcel’s shoes. When Idressa ventures outside he brings along Marcel’s shoe shine supplies. Once again Kaurismaki uses the camera to focus on Idressa’s face and the shoes that walk past him. Like Marcel and Chang his eyes follow the pedestrian’s shoes, and therefor ours do too. By taking his time to show us the reactions of the people, Kaurismaki brings us into the small world of La Havre more effectively than most major production today.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Great observations on how Kaurismaki is able to generate emotion through specific choices in cinematography and editing. This is especially effective because the acting style is deliberately low-key and deadpan.

  • Jeremiah

    Le Havre is not the best movie out there but it definitely had some great key points that was touching. the two main key points a good heart and just to keep fighting it shows no matter how bad life beats you up, you can still be a kind person and have a good heart for example Marcel didn’t give up and all odds were against him low income, bad job,and his wife sick even through it all he still lends a helping hand when he finds idrissa a young African refugee who leaves Africa trying to get to london to find his mother. but the way marcel was lending a helping hand was he was leaving money/food at the dock for idrissa not only did he eventually take idrissa in but he also help him get back home. with all of this going on marcel wife arletty pretty much got better on her own kinda i kinda feel like it was karma good thing comes to those who do good. lastly the inspector monet was on a mission to find the missing refuge so he can rough him up. but i think in the middle of the movie he had a change of heart some where cause when idrissa wass about to get shot when he ran away but he stopped it. he also help hid him in the cabinet from the police as well. this movie has the feeling of everyone in a tight spot and in a bad place in their life but their heart still has so much good in it that it wont let them become 100% cold hearted.

    • michaelgloversmith

      I know you’re at a disadvantage because you missed the lecture but this is a little bit too much plot summary and not enough analysis of LE HAVRE as a _movie_. I feel like you could have written this after reading the screenplay instead of watching it. 9/10

  • Ivana Jesic

    The movie Le Havre is an optimistic, French movie produced by Aki Kaurismaki. The purpose of this movie is to teach us that we should help each other because if we are together we are stronger. His film is based on illegal immigration where container full of African immigrants arrived in city Le Havre. The film represents lowing city where people helped the stranger, boy Idrissa to find his mother in London. Main character Marcel Marx with the help of his neighbors grows cleverly to hide the boy Idrissa from police and teach us that the success of teamwork is essential. But that’s not all. Another big problem that affects the main character Marcel is the illness of his wife Arletty. We already know that karma is something that should matter in our life and everything good we do it will come back so all the kindness of this couple was worth and Arletty got healed even if she had small chances of making alive. Something that main character has done and makes him a hero it is his strong will to help the young boy who is in same time illegal immigrant and rejoin him with his mother in England. Where characteristic in this movie is that his neighbors at beginning were kind but not very interested in helping Marcel but when they saw his good will to help they joined him and did their best to protect young boy as well as take care of him when Marcel was out of town and provide food for him. In addition, food is very important in this movie even at the end when Arletty finally came from home she asked Marcel to make him some dinner.

  • Davis Negrillo

    The film Le Havre was a, for lack of a better word, interesting film. Before watching it, I was informed that it was a comedy of sorts. The “comedy” was not until near the end, in my opinion. I’m sure in France, the comedy was a lot easier to pick up on because I do believe that here in the US, our comedy has made us more desensitized than elsewhere in the world. I did enjoy the whole heartedness of the film though. Seeing Marcel care for a strange boy, taking him under his wing, giving him what little he had, was a savior for humanity. And the locals helping out made it even better. It’s definitely something not witnessed too often in modern US films. There was also absolutely no SPX, which sort of played me into a state of confusion. I would question what time period this was taking place in and thought perhaps 70’s or 80’s. Little things would squash that idea, such as the use of cell phones. But, it also made sense there was not a lot of modernity present being that the town of which Marcel is living seemed to be more of the lower class area. Overall, it was an enjoyable movie that I could definitely watch again. Although, I feel that showing this to people I know would be a little difficult for the facts I stated with little comedy, no spx, and a little cheesy (in a good way). This would go into my pleasant collection with The Life of Walter Mitty.

    • michaelgloversmith

      In my lecture, I touched on the fact that the comedy in this film would not be nearly as aggressive as what we are used to in America. Still, there was a fair amount of laughter in the class throughout the film. I think the film’s absurdist/deadpan sense of humor has more to do with the personal style of writer/director Aki Kaurismaki (who is Finnish and a genuine oddball) rather than being something that would be easier for the French to pick up on because the film was made in France. 9/10

  • Jowayne Calma

    Le Havre is a film about a man who helped a refugee escape immigration officers and then get to London. I believe this movie reflects on a lot of important issues today like refugees and illegal immigration. The movie focuses on how Marcel helped Idrissa who was discovered along with other refugees hidden in a trailer that was supposed to be shipped from another country. Idrissa then escaped and hid. He was discovered by Marcel when he was eating near the port. The movie shows a lot about cooperation and helping each other. This is showed by Marcel keeping Idrissa in his home, the grocer and the owner of the bakery giving him food, then Chang (who also is an illegal immigrant) helping Marcel collect money by starting a concert to help pay for Idrissa’s ticket to make way to England. A scene where Arletty ( Marcel’s wife) is giving him more food while she is standing there watching him eat, and when she got sick and doesn’t want to let Marcel know about her condition is relatable to a sad reality of a lot of overseas worker who works hard abroad to help their family. She doesn’t want to let her family know about her bad condition just to avoid making them worry about her. On the last part I noticed a scene where I thought about being optimistic. That despite all of the negativities that bothers us, we should focus on the positive things in life. This is depicted when Arletty was suffering from her health condition and her hospital room being all blue and gloomy. Then at the end showed Arlene in a blue room but is now wearing a yellow (color of joy) dress healthy and happy then a bright light behind her.

    • michaelgloversmith

      I’m glad you noted that Arletty is a “foreigner” in France just as much as Idrissa. This may indeed be why she gets sick (see, as I mentioned in class, the extraordinary ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, which is about a Moroccan immigrant who develops a similar sickness while trying to eke out a working-class existence in Germany). 10/10

  • Allen Boguslavsky

    Going off of what Ivana wrote and how the film deals with karma and optimism – I found this film to bring up issues the burden our society as a whole. THE WAY Aki Kaurisimaki dealt with these issues in his film is a whole different story.
    “The purpose of this movie is to teach us that we should help each other” wrote Ivana and I couldn’t agree more. I love how the film represented a message and it was developed in such ways that we as humans can appeal to. The theme of ‘good things come to those who wait, what goes around comes around ‘was evident with Marcel Marx. Marcel’s wife was basically on her death bed while Marcel was carrying out an escapade to help a complete immigrant stranger. The whole town understood how Marcel was a free loathing young hearted ‘schmuk’ if you will – but when he needed the town most they certainly helped him help Idris. I loved the subtle comedy throughout the film as it hits home. The views on policy, authority, immigration are all things that should be looked at much simpler and more humane. We are all humans at the end of the day, and I believe Aki Kaurisimaki believes in the greater good for people but still wanted to address how there will ALWAYS be hope for humanity. I loved the film and I loved how each characters developed a sense of personality. Kind of like Game of Thrones – you learn to adore and truly feel the character’s deep personalities.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Good point about each of the characters coming across as a distinct “personality.” Even Chang, who has very little dialogue in the film, feels like a real flesh-and-blood character somehow. The film feels like a depiction of a real community of people because of this specificity.

  • NickWeimer

    Monet doesn’t really threaten Marx as much as he warns him. Most people Marx meets want to help him, especially when they find out about Idrissa (pretty much immediately), with the exception of the non-Monet police, the cop-callers, and the Newspaper (which isn’t exactly a ‘contact’ but it is an element of conflict fueling the cop-callers). When Idrissa runs out of the cargo container one cop raises his gun, but Monet stops him, this immediately sets up Monet to be a good-guy-(or-at-least-conflicted)-cop with a conscience. The ‘first ending’ on the boat plays out very similarly, and Monet is shown to have solidified his reevaluated ethics in light of his interactions with the community, and some guilty reflection on the arrest of the barkeeper’s husband.

    When Marx reunites Little Bob and Mimie, Road Manager of Little Bob’s Soul, the scene plays out with incredible, hollywood ease and shifting stage-lighting. The most optimistic points of the film also seem to be the ones most set up to enhance contrivance, absurdity, and to revel in optimistic fantasy.

    After sending Idrissa off to England, Monet, ‘agent of the government’, and Marx, ‘agent of the people’, decide they’re friends (truly a Comedy) and soon after celebrating their new-found camaraderie Marcel stumbles into good-news-delivered-like-bad-news. It seems like Aki Kaurismaki is fond of this trope—Judging only from the ‘disease is cured’ of Le Havre, and the absurd beginning of The Man Without a Past, where he, The Man, is pronounced dead but found to be alive over and over and over. Eating, Drinking, and Smoking are all also very present. Aki also clearly loves rock and roll. Both films have significant sequences basically dedicated to music. And then there’s the ridiculous, rock-saturated, Leningrad Cowboys Go America, featuring a veritable avalanche-of-beer, a healthy dose of tobacco, and probably the most hyperbolic pompadours ever captured on film. It sort of reminded me of The Blues Brothers. But anyway . . .

    Le Havre highlights the difference between judging and acting upon people we can’t see, and how we act toward one another (ideally) in person, and within local communities. Someone mentioned the relative lack of technology, which probably does result in tighter local communities. The only instances of phones I can recall are the cell phone of the corner-creeper who emerges to call the cops on Idrissa when he’s out shoeshining, and the corded telephone that Nosy-Neighbor (same guy maybe?) also uses to call the cops.

    • michaelgloversmith

      The corner-creeper and nosy-neighbor are indeed the same guy. In fact, he’s one of the most famous actors in the history of French cinema: Jean-Pierre Leaud (veteran of many New Wave classics)!

      “Optimistic fantasy” is definitely NOT Kaurismaki’s usual register though. Much of his previous work is bleaker and more darkly comic. See, for instance, the great LA VIE DE BOHEME, which also stars Andre Wilms as the same “Marcel Marx” character. 10/10


    I really don’t like movies, not until I saw “Le Havre” it’s the first time that a movie take my interest and I did not want it to end :). Le Havre is movie about very basic, poor and old man how work all day to get money so he can live with his wife and suddenly he saw a small refugee kid how wants to go to London after his father past away and how did Mr. Marcel helped him to escape from the police and worked hard with all the people they live in his small street to send Idrissa to his mother to London.my summary was short because I want to explain what make this movie one of the greatest movies ever .Le Havre is movie that focused on many points without making the audience get lost while they are watching. The movie talks about racism, love, sadness, Miracles, being happy, refuges, Marcy hospitality and generosity and many other factors that is most likely dos not exist around the world and spatially in the U.S where it could happen in other side of the world. On the other hand on of the biggest factors that played a big role in the movie is food because I think that the author was trying to show that the person who shares his food even if he won’t be able to eat for the rest of the day is a guy with very good manners and hurt and over all sharing food meant to show generosity and the Altruism hospitality and show how food can help to make new friends 😉

    • michaelgloversmith

      “The movie talks about racism, love, sadness, Miracles, being happy, refugees, Mercy, hospitality and generosity…” This is indeed an excellent “checklist” of the film’s key themes (to which one might also add xenophobia, intolerance AND the ability to transcend cultural/national boundaries). Real life may not be like LE HAVRE but maybe it should be, no?

  • Derek Colon

    The french film Le Havre was a great and optimistic film. At first it seemed fairly negative with the dearh of the random wealthy man and marcell getting blamed and such, but by the end of the film the optimism seeps in more than any negative aspect. I loved the movies main themes and the lighting used in most of the scenes. Karma played a huge message in the majority of this film. Marcell helps out Idrissa from Africa to London, and his wife gets better when he makes it to London safe and sound. There were many scenes where I just loved he lighting, mostly towards the end of the film. When Bob (at least I think his name was Bob) the singer was in the store talking to Marcell, and then eventually his wife when Marvell leaves, the lights glow bright on their faces and the music takes a funny, overly dramatic turn as they smiled at each other for a solid 6 seconds on camera. Another instance if lighting furthering my love for the movie was discussed in class as Marcell was rushing through the hallway of the hospital to go to his wife. It was a mix between shade and sun as he passed the windows, making me truly believe that Arletty passed away. The last lighting scene that I will present was actually at the beginning of the film outside the fancy clothing store, when Marcell was being accused of being a terrorist. It was rather dark and rainy and as a viewer I couldnt help but feel a hint of pity for this old man who really wanted nothing more than to just make the small living he could by shining peoples shoes. The use of lighting was brilliantly used to play on the viewers emotions, rather that be for comedic use or suspense. This wasnt the best film I have ever seen, but it did have a lot of modern day political problems that arent usually touched upon in movies so that was an added bonus as well. I enjoyed this french film and look forward to the next one

    • michaelgloversmith

      The fact that the storeowner calls Marcel a “terrorist” is something I wish we would have touched on in class! Thanks for bringing it up. This shows the prejudice that the wealthy often have towards the poor (demonizing and “othering” them) and it links Marcel to Idrissa (who, it is ludicrously speculated in the press, may have links to Al Qaeda).

  • Esam Mohammed

    In the film Le havre,Aki Kaurismaki portrays a plot about a shoe shiner by the name of Marcel Marx and a small community that goes out of their way to help Idirssa, a young African refugee. While the storyline of the movie is like that of a fairytale, Aki Kaurismaki’s use of symbolism throughout the film is what makes this film so pleasant. To begin, Aki does not shy away from showing his political views. The prevalence of Marxism plays a significant role in the message Kaurismaki is trying to send to his audience. When Marcel first encounters Idrissa, he is aware the Idrissa is an illegal Immigrant but, rather than reporting him to the police he instead offers him food. Prior to bringing Idrissa home, Epicer, the grocery store owner, and Yevette the bakery owner showed enmity toward Marcel due to the debt he owed them. Immediately after Marcel takes Idrissa into his home, both Epicer and Yvette suddenly forget about the debt and both go out of their way to help this young boy. Marcel on the other hand uses all the money he had saved in his box to help Idrissa migrate. The decision these characters make is significant to the message Kaurismaki is trying to send to his audience,that is, we are all human beings and society should work together to make this world a better place.

  • Natalie Choute

    Le Have was an interesting film to watch. I did find it to be charming but it took me awhile to truly believe in what I was seeing. I sat through this movie with doubt that there was no such thing as a good ending. Maybe it was our discussion prior to the start of the film about “illegal immigration” and Donald Trump that made me truly question how sweet this film really is.
    The first scene to really capture me was when marcel was standing in front of a shoes salesman store and he’s given the boot by the guy and is referred to as a terrorist. I then began to question that remark. Terrorist? What? How can a man trying to earn some a few bucks be a terrorist? He wasn’t vandalizing property or harassing anyone. He just wanted to get paid and even referred to the salesman as a comrade. Later we see Marcel walk down a dark street and he steals bread from the baker and Jean-Pierre sees Marcel approaching and quickly shuts the light off at his store and hides. I thought the way they treated this man well then yes he definitely seems like to be like a terrorist.
    When Idrissa comes into the film and begins interacting with Marcel, the idea of him being such a pain changed for me because we see Marcel show the boy compassion and patience. Behaviors we see given to him by his wife Arlettty.
    Idrissa to escape the police hid in the shadows and traveled with Marcel in the shadows. So When Idrissa traveled with the dog to earn some money it was in broad daylight. He’s standing in a train station with a dog and shoe polish ready to work. Le Havre’s most wanted in a busy area being completely dismissed by others who just kept walking. It seemed like Idrissa was a shadow. Ari set this young man out to be seen and no one noticed him until later by Marcel’s nosy neighbor. An immigrant so publicly wanted by authorities but not seen by many because he’s viewed as a young man looking to work and survive like Marcel but not as a terrorist like Marcel. Ari made the two characters to be each other’s light and to no longer be hidden or traveling in the shadows.

    • michaelgloversmith

      In the eyes of “respectable society” those who exist in the margins (the working class, the homeless, immigrants) ARE terrorists, or are no better than terrorists (see my response to Derek about how this links Marcel and Idrissa). It probably WAS technically illegal for Marcel to be shining shoes in front of the other guy’s store; do you think he needed a permit to do that? If so, do you think he had one? As for stealing the bread, yes, again, technically it’s theft but he was only taking what he truly needed! 10/10

  • Prat Moshy

    Le Havre was the first foreign film I have ever watched. I thought It was a very interesting short film. The film kept me reeled in for a couple of reasons. One was because there were many moments in the film that had me believing something was going to happen, but the opposite happened. For example at the end of the film when Marcel finally went to see his wife Arletty, Kaurismaki made it feel like she had died and that she never had the chance to wear that yellow dress that she asked Marcel to bring. Another example would be when the detective came into Marcel’s house and Idrissa was hiding behind the door, the film led you to believe the detective would find him and Marcel would probably attack Monet at that exact moment. Aki Kaurismaki is a talented director, because he created a short film that is very simple, yet you can watch it numerous times and grasp different ideas that he is trying to capture. Another thing that kept me reeled in was the humor within the film. A moment where this was displayed was when Marcel was trying to get Little Bob to perform and raise money for Idrissa to escape, it was just humorous to me why Little Bob and his wife were arguing, and how when Marcel got them back together a light of romance illuminated their faces. Overall Le Havre was a great short film and I’m excited to learn more about movies and films from around the world.

  • Omar K Mohammed

    The film Le Havre, offers an interesting perspective in character development. Aki Kaurismaki’s development of Marcel Marx for the duration of the film shows a complete change in the character’s attitude and portrayal. For example, Marcel is seen as a hardworking man who is also laid back and somewhat care free. He seems to burden all of those around him including his wife and neighbors. In fact, his wife Arletty does not inform him of her ailment because she fears he would not be able to handle such news. It is clear that although Marcel cares for those around him, he refuses to go the extra mile when needed. This all changes when Idrissa enters Marcel’s life as it is the beginning of his development into a more cultivated fatherly figure to Idrissa. Marcel’s neighbors also seem to rally around him to care for Idrissa, and it appears when they pardon Marcel’s debt and offer support. Towards the end of the film we see how Marcel uses the money he has saved to send Idrissa to London to be with his mother, and when he hears that he almost lost his wife it really hits him hard. These are signs that he has developed a more mature attitude. The film does take on an interesting concept of community and helping your fellow man. Throughout the film we see how the characters are willing to support the refugee even though they themselves do not have much. It just goes to show how much society can benefit from a little goodwill.

  • Brian Stern

    I had never seen Le Havre before watching it in class and going into it I was told it was a comedy which is subtle compared to that of American cinema. In essence the central plot is about a humble minimalist shoe-shiner named Marcel Marx befriends an adolescent boy named Idrissa who is an illegal immigrant from somewhere in Africa that is trying to be reunited with his Mother in London and how a portion of a small neighborhood concealing him from the police and come to aide in eventually getting him where he needs to go. Its main drive is morality being that legal issues shadow what is right. If the plot played out the way it would in the real world there wouldn’t have been the same outcome and would have been a much shorter less of a feel good movie.

    There were a number of themes that I noticed while watching. Some of which were mentioned during the discussion we had after the movie such as the use of food as a plot device as well as the lighting and visible colors conveying the mood of the scene. Two examples come to mind of the extremity of the lighting. The first is when Marcel is trying to convince Little Bob to sing at his charity concert. Little Bob is in darkness in a quasi-depressed state over the fight and split between him and his wife Mimie. Then they are reunited and reconcile the lighting changes bright almost angelic light depicting that Little Bob feels whole again. The second use of lighting is that in the hospital after Marcel finds the parcel of his wife Arletty’s clothing on the neatly made bed and a nurse comes to guide him to the doctor. In the hallway leading to where the doctor is dimly lit giving you the sense that Marcel believes something bad has happened. In the room with the Doctor the lighting brightens up a bit and when eventually you see Arletty again with a glow behind her reminiscent of the reconciliation scene with Little Bob. The Scene starts off making you expect the worst and leaves you with relief that much like with the relationship between Little Bob and Mimie, Arletty and Marcel are once again whole.

    One last theme I do not believe was brought up in the discussion that I would like to touch base on was the timeless feel the movie has. From the way the characters are dressed to the locations to the use of older technology you are not given a clear sense of when this is supposed to take place. It wasn’t until I noticed the use of The Euro as Currency and the cell phone used by Marcel’s Neighbor at the train station to inform the Police of Idrissa’s location that I realized it was set in modern times. Before that all the cars were older models and the neighborhoods appearance looked dilapidated. With what was shown it had the feel of taking place around 20 to 30 years ago.

  • Jimmy Nellamattathil

    Le Havre was a very interesting film and was the first foreign film I have seen outside of Bollywood films. The film seemed old school in the way it was filmed in my personal opinion. For a film that was created in 2011, the simplicity in which the film was shot made it look and feel to me like a film made in the mid to late 1900s. This could also be due to the fact that I watch mostly American made movies which have different ways to portray the film. Critics claimed that the film was humorous, and although there were a few moments when I cracked a smile, the film seemed more serious than funny. I did enjoy the story itself and noticed all the different themes and symbols that were mentioned in the essay. I agree that food and meals played an important role in developing the story, and showing how food brings people together. One of the most interesting parts of the film I noticed was when Marcel was shining a customer’s shoe outside of someone store. The store owner called him a terrorist and kicked his shining equipment away from his storefront. Then later on in the film when Idrissa escapes we see a shot of a newspaper claiming he may be a terrorist working with Al-Qaeda. I found it interesting that neither of these individuals were terrorists but the community claimed them to be and they Marcel ended up helping Idrissa giving me the idea that although they don’t know each other, those that are mistreated will help each other.

  • Jack Whalen

    Kaurismaki really shows off his directing chops in Le Havre (2011), mixing genuinely moving scenes with light comedy intermissions throughout the film in a way that felt completely unique. Le Havre is about a French shoeshiner (Marcel Marx) in a Normandy town of the film’s namesake who finds, shelters, and aids an African refugee (Idrissa) with the help of his community.

    In many ways Le Havre reflects Kaurismaki’s view of a utopian society: everyone, even the “villain”, cannot overlook humanity for the sake of authority. Humanity may very well be the central theme of the film — Kaurismaki first introduces the refugees with individual shots of each person’s face rather than bunching them into one shot, subtly keeping the camera from “other-izing” them.

    Class consciousness is also highlighted heavily. The opening scene features a spy chaining a briefcase to his arm and getting shot in the street for it, humorously pointing out the value of property over people. Kaurismaki spends the rest of the film refuting this point. Marx, for instance, does not so much as flinch when the Immigration Police destroy half of the stuff in his home — he knows it is for a good cause. Le Havre serves as an excellent allegory in favor of Kaurismaki’s left-leaning values without being too heavy-handed, and is a wonderful watch.

  • Esho Youkhana

    Le Havre directed by Aki Kaurismäki is a genius film filled with bitter humor as Mr. Smith said in his blog. I would have to agree with Mr. Smith because the humor in the film is gentle and bleak at the same time. The humor caught me off guard many times and I did actually enjoy it. The film to me is really about how people can come together for a good reason on a local level, as Mr. Smith stated in the blog. The Utopia where people do work together in a positive manner to do the right thing, and Kaurismäki basically displays that in the film. The film is made so well where the environment of the characters matches perfectly with what is going on in the characters’ lives. For example, I noticed that colors would get darker when bad or sad things tended to happen. The scene where there are grey clouds over Le Havre made me have a feeling to my stomach where I felt as if I can feel Le Havre’s dull weather myself. As Mr. Smith stated in the blog, the people of the town come together on a local level and that shows them to being better than racism or exaggerated remarks (from the French newspaper). What I enjoy the most of out the film is the way Kaurismäki captures images in the film and just holds his camera steady. As some people see that as unprofessional or odd I think it works perfectly for Kaurismäki. For example, in the scene where they open up the cargo door and the camera captures the images of the immigrants one by one is outstanding. As the camera zooms in to their face, Kaurismäki is basically making you look at the faces and trying to cope with them. I highly doubt any person who saw that scene does not feel a little empathy for those people. Another scene, where it shows Marcel going to the refugee camp by the bay and we see him later eating with those “refugees” and eating with them. Kaurismäki holds his camera still at the moment where it shows Marcel eating with them and sharing laughs. That scene for me broke down any barriers that were between refugees and french citizens like Marcel. It made me think to myself, even those refugees do not have that much, they still provided Marcel with a meal and that makes a bold humanitarian point.

    • michaelgloversmith

      It is indeed important that the refugees share a meal with Marcel but it’s equally important that he shares his tobacco with them! Also, good observation on the symbolic value of light and darkness in the film. 10/10

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