One of the great privileges of my job is getting to spend time with some of the world's best directors. The tragedy is I meet them during the period they often find the most tiresome; promoting, rather than making films. It can feel a bit like being the receptionist at a dental surgery specifically for Palme d’Or winners. They fly in for a couple of days, barely see the outside of a hotel room and are off well before you’ve a chance to weasel in that question about the metaphorical significance of talking limousines.
A rare exception was the day Aki Kaurismäki bowled into town to do press for Le Havre.
Within 15 minutes of meeting him he had given away his expense money to homeless people around Soho. The press junket was a whirlwind of beer, wine and hotel staff constantly complaining about his smoking indoors (this was some five years after the smoking ban had taken effect). But what struck me was his openness, and the physical investment he gave to every interview. He was engaged with his work and life to an almost painful degree.
No wonder Kaurismäki made Le Harve, with its focus on the refugee experience, well before the topic began being reported widely in the mainstream press. Kaurismäki has always been attuned to those on the margins of society.
Some reviews for Le Harve chastised its tale of a community rallying around an immigrant child as a beautifully made fantasy. But what a strange world we now live in that simple human solidarity is considered too fantastical to be seen in cinemas where boy wizards, superheroes and bizarre monsters abound. Does Kaurismäki see the world through rose tinted spectacles? Emphatically not! But he dares to portray characters living up to their ethical demands even at the risk of seeming naive. We see now that our failure to heed the repeated call for solidarity has been the background noise to the continuing crisis in the mediterranean.
Le Harve changed my life because it showed me that a film can imagine a world, not as it exists but as one we can strive towards. A way of life that even its director is battling to achieve alongside his audience. Kaurismäki teaches us life is messy and difficult but beautiful and essential, best washed down with a beer or two, and that the ethical path is the only way to freedom.
[Jake Garriock, Curzon Artificial Eye]
The Other Side of Hope, Aki Kaurismäki's follow up to Le Havre, plays on Curzon screens from Friday 26th May.