The best way of understanding (sort of) writer-producer-director Aki Kaurismaki’s universe might be through the answer he gave to a question, in May’s Sight & Sound, about whether he was his dogs’ agent:
‘No, my wife is. So it’s tough negotiation. When I start to write the screenplay, always on the third day my wife comes and says: “Is there any part for a dog?” She’s a good manager. And the dogs always remember their dialogue. The actors always don’t. I mean, the other actors.’
So far so batty. Kaurismaki’s universe is similarly surreal. In Le Havre the iconography of the ‘fifties (clothing, cars and interiors) is mixed with a modern tale of (illegal) migration. Kaurismaki’s melodrama focuses upon the solidarity of the working classes (also from a bygone age?) in the face of repression. The interiors of his mise en scene emphasise turquoise, for reasons that escape me, but doesn’t half look good. It’s also good to see old, really old not just what’s old to young people, characters as protagonists. Little Bob and his band, performing in a charity concert to raise money for the protagonist, cuts a mean impression of Springsteen too.
The narrative focuses upon the attempts of a shoeshine, whose wife’s in hospital, to help a young African lad get to London to be reunited with his mother. He’s shadowed by a police inspector, tailored all in black, and helped, of course, by Laika; the all-important dog.