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Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre

Aki Kaurismäki, Le Havre, 2011, still from a color film in 35 mm, 93 minutes. From left: Marcel Marx (André Wilms) and Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin).

ONLY IN AN AKI KAURISMÄKI film would someone comfort a dying woman by reading Kafka to her, as happens near the end of the po-faced Finn’s latest proletarian fable, Le Havre. Though still capable of such mordant jokes, Kaurismäki here largely forgoes the defining characteristics of his early cinema—battery-acid irony; mannerist compositions; elaborate conceptual jokes; the blithe and reckless jumbling of moods, sources, tones, and genres—in favor of the autumnal humanism and neo-Christian charity of his latter-day comedies of desperation Drifting Clouds (1996) and Man Without a Past (2002). Recognizing that he is incapable of making a polemical or documentary-like film about illegal immigrants in Europe, Kaurismäki has wisely resorted to the mode of Neorealist fairy tale to address a social issue long on his melancholy mind. Not for him the sickly mix of fantasy and

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