Le Havre – The Criterion Collection #619 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 1, 2012 by  

“Le Havre” is a delightful, smart, happy ending type-of-film for Aki Kaurismäki.  A delightfully charming film that captures the good in people’s hearts but yet done in a way that is not too cheesy or unnecessary.  It’s a film with a non-preaching, positive message not about just helping people but to not get bog down with the negative things that occur in the world today.   Find acceptance within your life and help others who need you.  “Le Havre” is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2011 Sputnik Oy – Pyramide Productions – Pandora Fil – ARTE France Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Le Havre – The Criterion Collection #619


DURATION: 93 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Subtitles


RELEASE DATE: July 31, 20112

Written and Directed by Aki Kaurismäki

Produced by Aki Kaurismäki

Co-Producer: Karl Baumgartner, Reinhard Brundig, FAbienne Vonier

Executive Producer: Hanna Hemila

Line Producer: Stephane Parthenay

Cinematography by Timo Salminen

Edited by Timo Linnasalo

Production Design by Wouter Zoon

Costume Design by Frederic Cambier


Andre Wilms as Marcel Marx

Kati Outinen as Arletty

Jean-Pierre Darrrousin as Monet

Blondin Miguel as Idrissa

Elina Salo as Claire

Evelyne Didi as Yvette

Quoc Dung Nguyen as Chang

Laika as Laika the Dog

Francois Monnie as Epicier

Little Bob as Little Bob

In this warmhearted comic yarn from Aki Kaurismäki, fate throws the young African refugee Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) into the path of Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a kindly old bohemian who shines shoes for a living in the French harbor city Le Havre. With inborn optimism and the support of his tight-knit community, Marcel stands up to the officials doggedly pursuing the boy for deportation. A political fairy tale that exists somewhere between the reality of contemporary France and the classic French cinema of the past, Le Havre is a charming, deadpan delight and one of the Finnish director’s finest films.

In cinema, there have been filmmakers in their own countries that were known to take on the bourgeois society and the wealthy with humor but also a message.  Rainer Werener Fassbinder of Germany was one such filmmaker known for being polemic in his approach to his films.

But since Fassbinder’s death in 1982, seven years later, a Finnish filmmaker named Aki Kaurismäki would capture the world’s attention through his film “Leningrad Cowboys Go America”.  People saw the beginning of a filmmaker with a lot of potential and sure enough, by 2002, Kaurismäki would write and direct the film “The Man Without a Past”, as part of his Finland Trilogy (which included “Drifting Clouds” (1996) and “Lights in the Dusk” (2006), his comedy would be nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Foreign Language Film” (which he refused to attend the event because he didn’t want to party in a nation in a current state of war) and would win the “FIPRESCI Prize” and “the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (special mention” at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.

Kaurismäki also grew admiration for his protests, may it be against George W. Bush’s foreign policy or a show of solidarity by not attending the 40th New York Film Festival because Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami was not given a US Visa in time for the festival.

In 2011, Kaurismäki went to work on his second French film titled “Le Havre”, the first since his 1992 film “La vie de boheme”.  The film would star Andre Wilms (“Europa Europa”, “La vie de boheme”, “Monsieur Hire”), Kati Outinen (“The Man Without a Past”, “The Match Factory Girl”, “Drifting Clouds”), Jean-Pierre Darroussin (“Red Lights”, “A Very Long Engagement”, “Family Resemblances”) and Blondin Miguel.

And now Kaurismäki’s “Le Havre” was released on Blu-ray and DVD in July 2012.

“Le Havre” revolves around a shoeshiner named Marcel Marx (as portrayed by Andre Wilms).  Marcel is trying to survive and making a living in the French industrial/port city of Le Havre.  He owes a lot of money to his local grocer and baker and despite not making enough money, he does all he can for his wife Arletty (as portrayed by Kati Outinen).  But despite owing money to his friends, this small community are good friends with each other and support each other.

Meanwhile, near the port, noises of a baby crying can be heard inside a shipping container.  When the police open it up, they find a family of Africans.  One of the Africans, a young boy named Idrissa (as portrayed by Blondin Miguel) is given a signal by his grandfather to run, so the boy takes off and escapes.  And now the inspector Monet (as portrayed by Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and the police are trying to find him.

Back at the home of Marcel, his wife Arletty has become ill.  She is rushed to the hospital and is told that she has an illness and probably will not survive that long.  She tells the doctor to delay telling her husband about the seriousness of her illness but each day, Marcel visits her, as do the women of the neighborhood.

One day while sitting near the port to eat his lunch, Marcel spots Idrissa hiding in the water and offers him some food.  But before he can, inspector Monet arrives and tells him they are looking for a Black young boy and wonders if Marcel had seen him, Marcel pretends he hasn’t.

From that point on, Marcel befriends Idrissa and learns that he is trying to get to London, so he can stay with a family member.

Feeling bad for Idrissa, Marcel decides to help the boy go to London, but he needs the help of his friends in the community to help him hide Idrissa from the authorities.  Meanwhile, inspector Monet becomes suspicious of Marcel and the people near the area of Le Havre.

But Marcel needs to get this boy to London, but will he able to make it happen?


“Le Havre – The Criterion Collection #619” is a film presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio).  The film looks absolutely magnificent on Blu-ray!

From the beauty of the port city as seen through cinematographer Timo Salminen showcasing a saddened Issidra looking towards the ocean, to the detail of closeups of each character, the film features warm and cooler colors with the look of Le Havre looking amazing throughout the film.   Black levels are nice and deep and there is also a good amount of grain as well.

Considering most cities tend to showcase the more industrial aspects of Le Havre, this film real showcases the details and beauty of the city thanks to the film’s clarity in HD.

I didn’t notice any banding issues nor any artifact problems during my viewing of “Le Havre”.  Overall, my feeling is that most cinema fans will enjoy the look of “Le Havre” on Blu-ray!  It’s a beautiful film!

According to the Criterion Collection, the Blu-ray release was approved by director Aki Kaurismäki, the new high-definition digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm interpositive.  Minor scratches and dust were removed using Image Systems’ Nucoda and Autodesk’s Flame.


“Le Havre – The Criterion Collection #619” is primarily a dialogue-driven film with a pleasing musical soundtrack. Presented in French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, while the dialogue is crystal clear, the film also utilizes the surround channels for ambiance.  So, the sounds of Le Havre, from children playing, people talking, you can hear it through the surround channels, so it adds to the beauty of “Le Havre” via audio and capturing the feel of being in the port city.

According to the Criterion Collection, the film features a fully digital 5.1 surround soundtrack.  The audio for this release was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.

Subtitles are in English.


“Le Havre – The Criterion Collection #619” comes with the following special features:

  • Le Havre at Cannes – (45:02) The press conference for “Le Havre” featuring Aki Kaurismäki and the cast answering questions at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
  • Interview – (11:40) Featuring a live TV interview with Aki Kaurismäki  and a few of the cast members at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
  • Andre Wilms – (13:08) An exclusive interview with Andre Wilms and the Criterion Collection shot in April 2012.
  • Kati Outinen – (48:08) Featuring an interview with actress Kati Outinen from the Finnish television show “Mansikkapaikka”.
  • Little Bob in Concert – (8:15) Featuring the full performances of Little Bob performing two songs at Le Havre in May 2010.
  • Trailer  – (2:19) The original theatrical trailer for “Le Havre”.


“Le Havre – The Criterion Collection #619” comes with a 28-page booklet with the following essays “Always Be a Human” by Michael Sicinski, “A Place of Peace: Aki Kaurismäki discusses “Le Havre” with Peter Von Bagh.

Delightful, intelligent and dare I say, heartwarming film from Aki Kaurismäki!

“Le Havre” is possibly unlike other Kaurismäki films, its not dark, nor is it polemic but its eccentric humor to go along with its focus on human relations is quite amazing.

In these days of worrying about the economy, worrying about surviving, the protagonist Marcel is a man who works hard as a shoeshiner to make his living and provide for him and his wife.  No complaints whatsoever.

His friends no he is fortunate to have a good wife in Arletty, but Arletty is sick and possibly not going to live that much longer.

But where most films would focus on the emotional aspect of a man losing his wife or the sadness that is typically banal in films that exploring death of a loved one or how a couple is affected, this is not that type of film.

Arletty when discussing her illness to her doctor, explains how no miracles exists to the people in her neighborhood.

Perhaps there is a growing complacency among the people of Le Havre, living the same life, day in and day out.

But for Marcel, that life is changed when he meets a young African boy named Idrissa.  We see Marcel and even his friends in the neighborhood getting a breath of new life as they try to hide and protect this young boy from being capture by police and the inspector.

And while the film is not groundbreaking, nor is it too realistic (there are many positive things that people do to help the boy, too bad society not always react with this much positivity in helping a person to such extremes), the way the film is told, the hope and caring nature of what we see visually is what captivates you.  Longtime cinematographer for Kaurismäki, Timo Salminen and editor Timo Linnasalo, continues to bring beauty and natural rhythm to Kaurismäki’s films.

As for the performers, it’s great to see talents such as Andre Wilms (reprising the role of an older Marcel, a character first featured in the 1992 film ” La vie de bohème”).  Also, great to see Kati Outinen once again in a Kaurismäki films.  Despite not having a lot of scenes, Outinen’s Arletty does play a pivotal role in the life of Marcel.  And also Jean-Pierre Darroussin does a great job in portraying the suspicious inspector!

And fortunately the film doesn’t call for young Blondin Miguel to have an emotional scene.  That is one thing that is Hollywood banality and that is to showcase an emotional scene with a child, but for the most part, this boy is trying his darnedest to be strong for Marcel.  And for this child actor, in his first major role, Blondin does a great job of playing a boy who is alone, lonely and has to put his faith into a group of people he doesn’t know.

It is a heartwarming storyline in some way, but it’s about how these individuals will achieve helping him, while the police and the inspector are scouring all over Le Havre for him.  But its efficacy lies within Kaurismäki’s storytelling and unexpectedness.  And it is great to see something original and not so banal.  I really enjoyed this film a lot!

The Blu-ray release of “Le Hare” is gorgeous.  Kaurismäki shows no intention of working in digital and so, the film looks natural with its warm to cool colors throughout the film.  Lossless audio is appropriate with this film utilizing a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French soundtrack with crystal clear dialogue and good use of surround for the film’s ambiance.  And there is a good amount of special features included on this Blu-ray release as well!  In fact, I was very pleased by the inclusion of these special features (and thank goodness they are long and not short), which gives viewers an idea of Aki Kaurismäki’s thought process of making the film but also the perspectives of both Andre Wilms and Kati Outinen who have the experience of working with him.

Overall, “Le Havre” is a delightful, smart, happy ending type-of-film for Aki Kaurismäki.  A delightfully charming film that captures the good in people’s hearts but yet done in a way that is not too cheesy or unnecessary.  It’s a film with a non-preaching, positive message not about just helping people but to not get bog down with the negative things that occur in the world today.   Find acceptance and help others who need you.

“Le Havre” is highly recommended!

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