Review: “Le Havre” – Jennifer Merin

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This Finnish-French dramady is neither directed by a woman nor about women and women‘s issues. The film transcends gender profiling. It is, put simply, human and humane. And, it is one of the few movies I’ve seen recently that has made me truly gleeful and profoundly proud that I am of our species.

“Le Havre” is about working class, salt of the earth residents — women and men — of that French port city who unite to support an African refugee boy. Working together, they use their limited resources and risk their own wellbeing to hide him from authorities, prevent his extradition, and find means to reunite him with his mother, who is living — illegally — in London.

“Le Havre” is rich with surprising plot twists and engaging side stories, replete with enchanting riffs of riotous and quiet humor, and peopled with thoroughly endearing characters. Beautifully shot, it creates and indelible sense of place. And, it embraces a good cause. The film is, for me, perfection in cinema.

Among my favorite sequences is one of those engaging asides — a rock concert — that‘s deftly fit into the main storyline. The crew of caring neighbors decides to throw together a charity concert in an abandoned warehouse to raise money to pay for smuggling the boy into England. They ask Little Bob to perform, but the band’s grey-haired and romantic front man won’t sing because he’s depressed due to his estrangement from his main squeeze and manager, whom he describes as — and this is one of my favorite lines in the film — “the roadmap of my soul.“ When told that a boy’s freedom at stake, the ‘roadmap’ returns to her rock star, so he can sing again, and the show — a delightful groove that you can currently view on YouTube — rocks on.

Written and directed by the charismatic Aki Kaurismäki, “Le Havre” is a brilliantly conceived compilation of wonderful subplots and sequences — one sweeter than another, and none of them the least bit hokey. If you see only one film this month, make it “Le Havre.”

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).