Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) is discovered in a shipping container with a group of Africans bound for London. The boy runs for it, eluding police and hiding out on the docks, where Marcel finds him and invites him back to his house. Arletty has gone to the hospital - diagnosed with something grim and serious, a diagnosis she asks the doctor not to tell her husband. And so Marcel and Idrissa talk, and share meals, while a Le Havre police detective - the comically sinister Jean-Pierre Darroussin, looking like he just stepped out of Le Samourai - shows up at inopportune moments, suspicious, menacing.
Wilms is simply wonderful as the unhurried, humble protagonist, a cash-starved bohemian who has endeared himself with his neighbors (well, all but one) despite owing most of them money. The film is about kindness, and courage, but also about the serious crisis facing Europe as refugees from Africa and elsewhere stream in, undocumented, unwanted. But in the Finnish director's hands, social issues are woven seamlessly into the fabric - this is a story about people, not politics.
Le Havre, too, has the feel of a fable about it. Shot in Kaurismäki's trademark style - cool, loping, observational - the film suggests a slightly better world than the one Marcel, Idrissa, Arletty, and the detective are living in.
If the bummers and ambiguity of some of this season's movies are getting you down - or, hey, just the bummers and ambiguities of life - make your way to Le Havre. You won't be sorry.
Le Havre ***1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki. With André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Blondin Miguel, and Jean-Pierre Darroussin. In French with subtitles. Distributed by Janus Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.