"All style and no substance..."

Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki presents his latest feature Le Havre with somewhat of an iconic and honourable reputation as a filmmaker, boasting close to forty awards throughout his career. Yet judging his work solely on Le Havre, one would assume that such a reputation is formed on his previous titles.

André Wilms plays Marcel Marx, a senescent shoe-shiner residing in the port city of Le Havre, living with his terminally ill wife Arletty (Kati Outinen). Despite the monotony of life beginning to kick in, all is to change when a young African boy called Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) arrives in the city in a cargo ship.

As an illegal refugee, the local detective Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) is searching for Idrissa, who seeks refuge with Marcel, as the elderly man takes pity on the child and takes him into his home to hide him, putting himself at risk in the process. It becomes evident that Marcel needs Idrissa just as much as Idrissa needs him - to fill the void left at home whilst Arletty battles her illness in hospital.

Despite being set in the present day, Kaurismäki's picture oddly looks and feels as though it has come straight out of the 1970's, almost seeming like a spoof in the process, like a Stella Artois advert. The film is intentionally imitative of such a period, with a patently handmade set, and consistently bright lighting used throughout. The décor is very 70's, with dial-up phones, old-style cars and the clothes which the characters wear. The detective Monet even resembles Poirot.

I'm undecided on the stylistic approach taken by Kaurismäki, as despite admiring him for attempting something so unique, the kitsch style does seems somewhat overstated and too much like a parody, except without any actual humour - like a Finnish Garth Marenghi, without any palpable attempt at comedy. It seems too much of a contrived attempt by Kaurismäki to achieve cult status, which isn't something you can simply create - it's the audience’s decision whether or not that happens, whereas this seems too unnatural and forced. Unless of course Kaurismäki has been frozen for the past 40 years and still believes he's still living in 1970.

The pastiche-like feel to the film is further enhanced by the performances from the actors, as the lines are delivered in a quite expressionless manner, almost wooden. There is also a slight delay in the characters actions, with prolonged close up shots too - all contributing factors in the immoderate and over-defined feeling of the picture. In many cases such an approach works, as it adds a joviality to proceedings and it becomes a very enjoyable film to watch - but the stylisation doesn't at all match the premise at hand, certainly living up to the expression 'all style and no substance'.

The story has many poignant aspects to it, presenting a tale rich in gritty realism. It's quite difficult to take the film seriously however, given the tongue-in-cheek approach taken by Kaurismäki, as the style to the film only seeks in devaluing a potentially sad and affecting premise. As Kaurismäki is evidently attempting to replicate and recreate an old classic movie, such a style would work better with a romantic flick, to help justify the retro feeling to the film. As an affecting drama, loosely political and racially charged, such themes rely on realism, whereas romance blossoms in a whimsical and mystical environment.

The relationship between Marcel and Idrissa isn't explored deeply enough either, as the film just trudges on with little explanation or actual story. The lack of depth to their relationship merely cheapens the finale, and makes us question his reasoning behind helping the boy. Yet on a more positive note, there are some endearing elements to the film, such as the locals desire to help Idrissa and support Marcel during what is a tough time.

The greatest positive for me comes in the soundtrack implemented within the film. It sounds almost grainy, as if playing from a record - which does happen in one scene as a Blind Willie McTell song plays from a vinyl player. - and such a sound really adds to the overall sentiment of the film. There are also a few accordion numbers, and I'm a sucker for the accordion.

In many ways I do appreciate this film, it is certainly very cool, from the music to the look and feel of it - but ultimately the story combined with its aesthetic and ambience is just too strange and doesn't really work for me. I'm sure there will definitely be people who identify with Le Havre though and this could well gain the cult following it’s yearning for, but I simply don't get it.

Le Havre was submitted as Finland's entry for this year’s Academy Awards, therefore suggesting this is the best the nation has had to offer over the past year. Yet based on this film, god forbid what they chose not to submit.