In what he intends to be a trilogy of movies set in ports, the Finnish moviemaker Aki Kaurismäki turns his affectionate, whimsical eye on the impoverished but generous folk of a run-down, waterfront community in the Normandy port of Le Havre. Led by the emblematically named Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a one-time bohemian who has given up novel-writing to work as a shoeshine boy, these outsiders protect a Congolese teenager in flight from the authorities after escaping from a container taking him and other refugees to London.
The movie is a homage to French cinema, shot and acted in the flat, carefully composed style of Bresson and celebrating les petits gens, those kindly ordinary people who populate the poetic, popular-front movies of the 1930s associated with Renoir, Clair and Carné. One of the characters is called Arletty, and a benevolent local detective dresses like a cop in a Melville thriller. Nouvelle Vague star Jean-Pierre Léaud and Pierre Etaix –, comedy director, Tati associate and actor in Bresson's Pickpocket – have walk-on roles.
Review by Philip French, The Observer