The 47th Chicago International Film Festival gave its top award, a Gold Hugo for Best Film, to Aki Kaurismaki's drama "Le Havre" (Finland/France). Idrissa, an illegal immigrant, finds allies in a French port city. On Friday, Michael Kutza, the festival's founder and artistic director, and programmer Mimi Plauche, announced decisions of five-member International Feature jury that weighed 17 different features in competition.
Finally Cannes delivers some real laughs! This morning I saw "Le Havre" by Finnish director Aki Kaurismki, screening in competition. After several days of grim and serious films about people who lead grim and twisted lives, I wanted to cry for joy at this funny and good-hearted film. I would normally be wary of a film that anyone describes as heart-warming but this is the real deal.
Kaurismaki ("Lights in the Dusk," "The Man Without a Past" "Drifting Clouds," "The Match Factory Girl") is a master of deadpan comedy. His central characters are often glum, non-verbal types and naive innocents duped by tricksters or beaten down by a world they don't understand. The humor in his films is rooted in the deepest irony. "Le Havre" blithely portrays life as we might wish it to be, and that is the funniest irony of all.
The shoeshine man Marcel Marx is seen plying his trade at the Le Havre train station in the opening scenes of "Le Havre." He makes very little money, and the routine of his daily walk home establishes the fact that he has an overdue tab running everywhere he stops--the bakery, the grocery store, and the corner bistro. He can be a bit of a charmer with the ladies, but his long-suffering wife Arletty (Kati Outinen, a longtime Kaurismaki regular) describes him as "a big child" when she cautions her doctor not to reveal that she is about to die.
As the opening night of the Cannes International Film Festival approaches, a host of Riviera amenities and services hope to lure my business via solicitous e-mails. Would Madame perhaps like to hire a helicopter for the journey from the Nice airport to the Festival Palais? Rent a limousine with a multilingual driver? Charter a yacht or rent a fully staffed villa with swimming pool (photos handily attached)?
Me, I'm just in the market to rent a no-frills mobile phone with a European SIM card, and I'll be taking an inter-city bus from the airport, but you get the picture. The sparkling goodies of this playground of millionaires are dangled before the thousands of accredited journalists, theater programmers, film buyers, and filmmakers soon to be heading for the legendary festival. Most of us will be pinching the Euros until they scream, but nonetheless enjoying the nonstop spectacle provided by those who get to ride around in helicopters.
The festival opens the night of Wednesday, May 11 with Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." "Monsieur Woodee," as the French are wont to call him, made his first visit ever to Cannes in 2002, when his "Hollywood Endings" opened the festival. Although the film was disappointingly lackluster, it certainly made no difference to his French fans, who hailed him like an emperor. I watched Allen on that occasion from a seat among the hyper-excited audience, marveling at his frail stature, almost inaudible voice, and the shrinking body language that made him seem an incongruous god of cinema.