Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Not in this Neighborhood": Le Havre


Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. ~Hebrews 11:1

La Havre, a Finnish film directed by Aki Kaurismaki, draws together the themes of care-giving/love, risks, and miracles.  In Kaurismaki's narrative, Marcel Marx, an aging bohemian with an unsuccessful shoe shine business, harbors a young illegal immigrant from Africa named Idrissa. When this young boy enters his home, Marcel, a man who has always been cared for and protected by his wife Arletty, finds himself flung into a new role, that of caregiver.  To his surprise, Marcel discovers he is equal to his task.  Yet, as the protagonist aids his new friend, Arletty lies in a hospital dying.  Early in the film, Arletty falls ill and her doctor informs her that her chances of survival are slim to none.  Rather than breaking down, she worries about Marcel who has never been able to care for himself.  Arletty asks her doctor to hide the truth from him, allow her to tell him in her own time.  The doctor agrees and kindly tells Arletty: "Miracles do happen" to which she replies: "Not in this neighborhood."  Arletty only has a few days to left to live and that time is consumed with Marcel's plans to help Idrissa escape deportation. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that there can be no happy ending.  If Marcel helps Idrissa than he will miss his final days with Arletty.  Yet, Marcel lives in ignorance because his wife has withheld her fate from him.  Thus, he can act with little fear and much determination as he struggles to save the boy, even missing visits with Arletty due to the pressing nature of his mission.  After Idrissa has escaped, we see Marcel enter the hospital to visit his beloved wife, but her room is empty.  Her bed is made, her things gone, only her dress remains folded neatly in brown wrapping.  A nurse solemnly leads Marcel to a private room and there he finds: His Wife, healthy and whole.  "Miracles do happen" she tells him.


In my opinion, from an artistic standpoint, Le Havre is flawed.  Arletty needed to succumb or Marcel needed to go to prison for helping Idrissa.  Even small miracles come at a dear price.  Despite this criticism, I have a soft spot for Kaurismaki's musings on miracles because I saw this film on my birthday last December.  It was a hard day which would be followed by a harder month.  As I watched Le Havre, I felt a sense of dread.  I knew Arletty must die or Marcel must leave.  Happiness is not a artistic statement.  Discovering themes of hope and grace rather than pain and loss left me floored.  Unbalanced or not, the conclusion tugged at my heart.  Down deep, I do believe in miracles, hope, and grace.  Why I do makes no sense.  There is no period in my life I wish to relive.  Each ended the same way: Me in the fetal position and unsure I'll recover.   My head is Arletty, assuring me miracles don't happen in my neighborhood and accepting that life is hard.  Yet, my heart is Marcel, blind and well meaning.  Running ahead and fearful of allowing life to pass by without admitting I care.  As the film ended my heart said: "Hold on" and my head said: "It's a fool's errand and that was a stupid conclusion."


Thirty nine days later, I suddenly find myself thinking about Le Havre again.  By early January, my rough month had left me reeling.  Then, about a week ago, I experienced a small miracle.  Nothing of Arletty proportion but significant nonetheless.  I found something I lost.  Why is that surprising?  Well, Cost Analysis is not my strong suit.  As much as my heart hopes for miracles and holds on, my heels dig in and my head takes over when I'm hurt.  Once lost in a fog of uncertainty and tears, I cut off communication and shut down.  In defense of my heels and head, my heart, though hard to buy, shatters quickly once I choose to hand off ownership.  Some protection of that fragile organ does seem necessary.  Funny, but finding something I'd missed quite a lot cleared much of my fog so I left town to celebrate. 


By the time I hit the Kentucky border, I was nearly my old self.  My friend, Maggie, noticed.  She grinned at me and said: "I'm so happy to see you and its fun to be with you again.  I love you either way, but you're reminding me why we're best friends."


Me: "I know right?  I was bad wasn't I?"  


Maggie: "Well, you remember the Mad Potter?"


Yes, I remember.  Lexington is home to pottery painting shop (i.e., the Mad Potter).  Kentuckians visit this establishment to sit and paint pristine flowers on vases and assorted knickknacks.  My approach to pottery painting, like my approach to life, is a wee bit eccentric.  For me, this process is less about what my final product looks like and more about the story behind my piece.  So I wander around the shop thinking and searching for something that I connect to mentally.  Something I can tell story about.  Last December, I ran across a rather strange looking cat that seemed to be holding its stomach and wincing.  "Perfect," I thought: "Its me."  For the better part of three hours, I worked on the cat-like representation of myself.  Finally, I carried my weird yet meaningful bit of clay up to counter along with my paperwork to pay for my storied piece of junk.  Maggie walked up with me, holding her pretty and sane-looking Christmas tree.


As I laid my cat and my psyche on the counter, the clerk said: "Oh, you painted an  UglyDoll."


I replied: "No.  Its a sad psychedelic kitten who is UPSET.  I wrote it down on my label."


The clerk gave me a funny look, then nodded and wrote "UglyDoll" on my paperwork.  I was horribly offended.  I whispered, none too quietly to Maggie: "She's NOT an UglyDoll.  She has a background, a STORY. I said she's a sad psychedelic kitten and that's what she is."


Maggie, still holding her Christmas decoration, looked at me with a mixture of pity and concern, but had enough experience to understand I must be placated in such situations so she said: "I know.  You're right, but an UglyDoll is the actual name of that product.  We'll call it whatever you want."

I nodded at her gratefully and marched to the car.  Yes, yes, I remember Mad Potter.  To be truthful, history tells me my next plunge down the Rabbit Hole is probably just around the corner.  
Maggie keeps assuring me that everything is fine.  No other hits are coming my way.  I'm not convinced.  I swing from my confident and happy self to worried something is lurking.  Waiting for the worst possible moment.  Waiting until I'm totally relaxed.  Completely unprepared and then BAM!  Knock out punch.  Perhaps my concern comes from the fact that finding lost things is not an experience I've had before.  Once things are lost you never find them again no matter how much you might wish for them.  I'm in uncharted territory here.  Maturity and Cost Analysis are Maggie traits.  Wild Affection, Loyalty, and Emotional Outbursts are Jenni Traits.  But I realize I need Maggie Traits if I hope to ever become a Healthy Jenni.  So at the moment, I'll listen to my best friend and try to relax.  What else can you do?  We cannot predict the future but we can ruin the present with with fear and anxiety.  Perhaps living in ignorance, like Marcel, is not such a bad thing.  When we rely too heavily on what we "know" or what history teaches us, we lose sight of what we might find.  Perhaps a miracle requires a leap that only Marcel-like faith allows us to make.  Maybe miracles happen in every neighborhood.  We'll see..


Note: Apparently, La Havre is also the name a German board game involving goods and ships


Because I'm in a musical mood and it seems appropriate, I'll leave you with "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart, a personal favorite only topped by "Falling Slowing" from Once.

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