Le Havre

Finland-France-Germany-Norway 2011, 93 mins
Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Aki Kaurismäki on ‘Le Havre’

A character named Marcel Marx appeared in your 1992 film La Vie de bohème: and André Wilms plays him again in Le Havre . Is he the same character?

Yes, I saved some trouble because I wouldn’t have to invent a new character. I had one in the pocket. Everybody is repeating themselves, so it should be all right for me too, and it’s ecological. Everybody has one story and they’re making variations of it. That’s what makes it interesting, how the variations change during the years. If you’re polite, you call it style. The directors who change all the time, they’re called professionals. I wonder how come they are professionals if they have no style.

One variation in Le Havre is that a lot of your earlier films ended with the characters emigrating, whereas this time they start as immigrants.

I am an immigrant myself [Kaurismäki now lives in Portugal]. I used to send the characters out of the country, but after I left Finland myself, I let the characters in.

As an immigrant yourself, was this a subject you’d wanted to film for a long time? Presumably you didn’t go to Portugal in a packing case…

No, I just wanted to get out of Finland.

So there was never any chance of making a story like Le Havre in Finland?

Nobody is so desperate that they want to be a refugee in Finland. Apart from gypsies who have been begging in the streets of Helsinki – and the whole country is in a mess, because they don’t know what to do. Because they are a democracy and they can’t just kill them, they try to push them away somewhere in a Nordic way, which means that nothing’s done and they are in misery, because it’s a Nordic social-democrat country.

Which is one of the themes of The Man without a Past, isn’t it?


Talking of recurring themes, Chang in Le Havre (played by Vietnamese-born Quoc-Dung Nguyen) is somebody who’s also consciously erased his past. He’s not so much without one entirely, but he knows that it has no value any more.

He’s an interesting actor. I found him in a Swiss film, and I found out in the middle of shooting that he’s not an actor, he’s an electrician. But I liked his face so much: his smile could light a whole city.

Where did you find Blondin Miguel, the boy who plays the Gabonese refugee Idrissa?

We checked all the Paris schools, and I had five who I liked, but I had to choose. There was something in him. Never two takes with him – only with professionals.

I was impressed to see that Laïka the dog got an opening credit in Le Havre along with the actors.

She stole the show. And since I am the producer, I always use my own dogs. They’re cheap. I have to feed them anyway.

And you’re their agent as well?

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.

The screening of Le Havre I went to was the first time I’d ever seen one of your films digitally projected. But you’re still shooting on 35mm, aren’t you?

I shall die with my boots on, but I’m a bit worried because since Kodak is gone, I will have to start deep-freezing material over the next few years.

Your films are dealing with darker subjects – unemployment, mental illness and horrible human exploitation – but at the same time they also seem to be getting happier.

I think if people buy the ticket to go to the cinema, I have no heart anymore to get them leaving the cinema sadder than when they come in. I want them happier when they go out, which is some value for their money. Don’t tell anybody, but I have a tender heart. At least I did when I still had a heart.

You’re obviously a big fan of classic French cinema.

If I had shot this in Italy, I would be a big fan of Italian cinema. I even smuggled some neorealism into this, but also there was a neorealist period in French cinema which is mostly in the shadow of Italian neorealism, because it was more clear in Italy. But in French cinema before the war there was the same cinema, a kind of neorealism.

Your first feature back in 1983 was an adaptation of Crime and Punishment . There’s an echo of Dostoevsky in Le Havre too, in the character of Inspector Monet.

There is, yes, in the scene at the very end where he comes to the home of Marcel Marx. I remember when I wrote it, I wrote the character of [Crime and Punishment’s detective] Porfiry Petrovich in this scene, just to amuse myself. Monet reminded me of the good policeman in Dostoevsky’s book. He’s kind of rebelling. And he hates his boss. Which is a reasonable sign of any worker.

Everyone who’s seen Le Havre seems to remember the scene where Inspector Monet spontaneously buys a pineapple and takes it into the café with him. Was that scene scripted?

It was improvised. I didn’t write the character very well, and the pineapple just happened to be there. Then I remembered Nazarín – in the last scene he’s walking with the pineapple in Calanda, with the drums playing. So it was all channelled from Monsieur Buñuel, who is my hero. I was quite a Buñuel fan in my youth, and I still am. He was the first and the last rebel of cinema.

Aki Kaurismäki interviewed by Michael Brooke, Sight & Sound, May 2012

Director: Aki Kaurismäki
©: Sputnik Oy, Pyramide Productions, Pandora Film, ARTE France Cinéma
Production Companies: Sputnik Oy, Pyramide Productions, Pandora Film
In co-production with: ARTE France Cinéma, ZDF/Arte
With the participation of: Fondation Finlandaise de la Cinématographie, Canal+, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Centre National du Cinéma et de l’image animée, YLE Co-productions, CinéCinéma, ARTE France, Région Haute-Normandie, Arte GEIE
Supported by: Région Haute-Normandie in partnership with CNC and in association with Pôle Image Haut-Normandie
Executive Producers: Fabienne Vonier, Reinhard Brundig, Hanna Hemilä (Finland)
Producer: Aki Kaurismäki
1st Assistant Director: Gilles Charmant
Script Supervisor: Malla Hukkanen
Casting: Gilles Charmant
Written by: Aki Kaurismäki
Director of Photography: Timo Salminen
Editor: Timo Linnasalo
Art Director: Wouter Zoon
Costumes: Fred Cambier
Sound Recordist: Tero Malmberg

André Wilms (Marcel Marx)
Kati Outinen (Arletty)
Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Inspector Monet)
Blondin Miguel (Idrissa)
Elina Salo (Claire)
Evelyne Didi (Yvette)
Quoc-Dung Nguyen (Chang)
Laïka (Laïka)
François Monnié (grocer)
Roberto Piazza aka Little Bob (Little Bob)
Pierre Étaix (Doctor Becker)
Jean-Pierre Léaud (denouncer)

Finland-France-Germany-Norway 2011©
93 mins

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