For many in attendance, the highlight of last year’s Cannes Film Festival wasn’t Terrence Malick’s grand and ambitious The Tree of Life, but Aki Kaurismäki’s low-key, unassuming Le Havre. Inarguably Finland’s best-known filmmaker — his only close competition is his brother, Mika — Kaurismäki belongs to an elite group of directors able to combine a distinct cinematic vision with a deep, humanist generosity toward their characters. Think Renoir, Ozu, or Keaton, three of the director’s influences: like Renoir, Kaurismäki’s concern for the people who populate his films is rooted in a keen awareness of class; like Ozu, he delights in static compositions splashed with primary colors; and like Keaton, his heroes are stoic and his humor deadpan. As Roger Ebert has noted, Kaurismäki “has created a world all his own, and you can recognize it from almost every shot.”
Scene from LE HAVRE, 2011.
That’s particularly true of his latest effort, a wry comedy that finds a Tatiesque community in the port city of Le Havre, France, sheltering a young Gabonese immigrant from the authorities as they try to reunite him with his mother. Even though it deals with a serious issue, the film is relentlessly funny and optimistic, a fable for our times that delights in the power of working-class solidarity and basic human kindness. It’s also gorgeous: a sworn devotee of 35mm, Kaurismäki uses the run-down, seaside beauty of the location to its full advantage, creating frames full of aquatic blues and greens and reminding us that, in his words, “film is light, digital is electricity.” We’re very excited to be hosting an exclusive three-day run of this wonderful film, and to celebrate, we’ll also be screening three other Kaurismäki classics: the Oscar®-nominated The Man Without a Past (Jan. 17), the blackly comic The Match Factory Girl (Jan. 24), and the unique literary “adaptation” La Vie de Bohème (Jan. 31) — one of whose characters returns as the protagonist of Le Havre!
Lori Donnelly is the George Eastman House Dryden Theatre film programmer.