CIFF Diary: Day 3 - The Kids Are Alright

10/9 - Sunday turned out to be a light screening day, mostly due to the good company and conversation of my former film and theatre student Husni Ashiku joining me for a couple of days at the fest, who reminded me that taking time to process with a thoughtful companion can often be more important than trying to fit in as many films as possible.  The Sunday afternoon screening of Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre was one of those screenings where the make-up of the audience added an extra, interesting layer to seeing the Finnish director's new tale of an elderly shoeshine and his ailing wife who take in a young African refugee who has escaped from a cargo hull in French seaport of Le Havre.  Le Havre is perhaps unique to most modern movies in that it's two primary characters are poor septuagenarians, an aspect we couldn't help but ignore when the theatre was suddenly inundated with a rather sizable class of school kids around 13 or 14, all in uniform that suggested some sort of military academy field trip.  There was the typical loud whispering across the isles, and one girl, with the kind of adrenaline fueled clumsiness that often arises on junior high field trips, tripped over one of her classmates, bashing headlong into the back of my seat.  Not your typical CIFF audience members, but aside from some mild annoyance, a refreshing change of pace.

Andre Wilms and Kati Outinen in Le Havre
Deliberately paced and lit, patient in its narrative, dry in its humor, Le Havre is what those of us who have at least some experience with Kaurismaki have come to expect...but what would a 13 year-old Military academy student make of this?  Part of me would like to think that somewhere in that group there is a future film maker who may not have even known what to make of it, or even enjoyed it, but the experience of seeing something that is speaking in a language so singular and outside of the mainstream prepped their mind for great works of film art to come;  that the weird film they saw that day on a mandatory school outing changed his perceptions for the better somehow.  Of course, Le Havre does have a similarly young central character, Idrissa (Blondin Niguel), the African refugee who Wilms's character, Marcel Marx, helps to hide from the stereotypically trench-coated and fedora brimmed detective on the case, Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin).  Over the course of the narrative, Marx's wife, Arletty, is admitted to the hospital for an unknown illness.  The character of Arletty is a fascinating one, certainly the wiser of the two, quietly devoted to her somewhat childish husband, she requests that Kafka be read to her by friends who visit her bedside.  Marx also lovingly tends to her, all the while hiding Idrissa from the cops while mending an aging rock 'n' roll couple's relationship in order to arrange a benefit concert to raise enough money to covertly transport the boy by boat back to his family.  Le Havre seems joyfully, defiantly grounded in the lives of it's elderly subjects, marked most significantly by a lengthy sequence where Kaurismaki allows us to jam out with an elderly local rocker in a rather SNL-movie style climax, a benefit concert hailing "The Return of Little Bob."

Aki Kaurismaki and Little Bob at Cannes
Le Havre may turn out to be a bit too sweet, maybe even naive in its politics, for some viewers, but aesthetically the film is a success, evoking the mis-en-scene and melodramatic musical tone of the silent era (deliberately contrasting the blue collar rock of Little Bob).  Kaurismaki is also the director of 1989's Leningrad Cowboys Go America, and 2002's The Man Without a Past.

Up Next:  Panel Discussion - Art as Activism featuring Alex Kotlowitz, writer and producer of the Steve James documentary The Interrupters.

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