“Le Havre” is located much further south, in the French port city where most of the cargo is human: illegal immigrants arriving from Africa. Police find a container full of them, and a young boy slips under their arms and runs away. It is Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), originally from Gabon, solemn, shy, attractive. The cops announce a manhunt. The film’s hero, Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms), fishes near a pier and sees the boy standing waist-deep in the water, hiding and silently calling out to him. He comes back, leaves some food and finds the food left the next day. And so, without a plan in mind, Marcel becomes responsible for protecting the boy from arrest.
The other characters in the film are all proletarians from a working-class neighborhood, and in the somewhat sentimental vision of Kaurismaki, therefore in sympathy with the little outsider and not with the police. We meet Marcel’s wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen, long the director’s favorite actress), who joins her husband in his shot. Their dog, Laika, is also a big help. Marcel, probably in his fifties, is an assiduous shoe shiner who knows everyone, including a nosy, a grocer (François Monnie); a fellow Vietnamese shoe shiner, Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), and a local rock singer named Little Bob (Roberto Piazza), whose number is unlike any you’ve ever seen.
Marcel and Arletty are happily in love for a long time. They cherish each other. Childless, they take care of the boy and enlist others in the neighborhood to hide him from Inspector Monet, who may not look so harsh. The snoop is a return to informants during the Resistance. Idrissa is ingenious and intelligent, and goes in and out of hiding places like a figure in a French farce. The dog fully deserves its inclusion by name in the credits of the film.
At the start of the conspiracy, Arletty falls ill and is rushed to hospital, fearing only that her illness worries Marcel. In a priceless scene, she meets Idrissa for the first time when Marcel sends her to the hospital on a mission. Note her perfect acceptance of any emissary from her husband, even an inexplicable young African boy. Also note the precise sequence of events in which Marcel believes his wife has died and finds out otherwise. Even the miracles of Kaurismaki are impassive.