The droll Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki hadn`t made a film since Lights In The Dusk in 2006, and frankly I was having severe withdrawal symptoms. His last couple of films were a tad disappointing, so it`s good to be able to say that he is back at his deadpan best with this touching tale of an elderly man, Marcel, and a young refugee African boy, Idrissa, in the northern French port of the title.
This is a somewhat gentler work than some of Kaurismaki`s other films, though it has the same mixture of a kind of bleak compassion and mordantly dispassionate observation of working-class people in all their flawed, random multifariousness - `Lord, what fools these mortals be`, indeed.
The plot is minimal, but the rewards to be had from this film of modest marvels are many, not least the central performances by the imposing Andre Wilms as Marcel, and Blondin Miguel as the boy. In fact, Wilms is both subtle and unselfishly restrained as the rather reluctant father figure. The ways in which his neighbours aid and abet his efforts are unsentimentally heartening, and often humorous.
It`s a lovely film to look at too. It lingers in the memory more like a play might, with its backstreet setting - as well as forays to the harbour - and scenes in various bars and shops, as Marcel tries to keep the authorities from discovering the boy.
If you like - or love as I do - this director`s films, you`ll fall for this return to form. If only more directors had the uncluttered honesty, unforced humour, and lack of self-importance of Kaurismaki.
Oh, and there`s a brief scene involving an investigator and a pineapple that made me laugh out loud.
Welcome back, Aki!