The two movies I’m writing of today (Le Havre, The Man Nobody Knew) have almost nothing in common, but both are worth seeing for their own reasons. So if in the course of the next week, you find yourself in the mood for a nostalgic, funny French film or a documentary about a man’s CIA-steeped father, keep these two in mind.

First things first: the documentary. The Man Nobody Knew is a mature, well-made movie that only suffers from a lack of moving, unique images. Produced and directed by Carl Colby, the movie attempts to portray Carl’s father, William Colby – a master spy who jumped out of airplanes in WWII and who became the head of the CIA during the Vietnam War.

The movie begins with Colby’s early military career and ends with his somewhat mysterious death. And all in between, the movie tries to make out who he was and why. And this question (why?) makes the movie particularly interesting.

As viewers of TV news and political dramas, we often see portraits of politicians and military people. We are used to them; their archetypes are easily identified. But spies (no, not James Bond; real spies) are harder to grasp. They live in a state of perpetual war; they gravitate to conflict and there face questions of enormous moral gravity.

Through numerous interviews with military historians, journalists and political people, The Man Nobody Knew makes William Colby out as a man that lived for secrets and who, in turn, became a secret.

The secret of his person is evident in the interviews with Colby’s wife (Carl’s mother). She talks of her long-time husband as though he were a puzzle she never completed. Yes, he was Catholic. Yes, he provided, worked hard and seemed to be a moral man. But who was he under that? The movie never really says; although it does try – and that’s what matters.

At its best, the documentary offers wonderful insight into what the CIA was doing in Vietnam ever since the French left. The movie makes you sympathize with Colby as you ponder his tactics and imagine what it would have been like to balance Cold War politics on a daily basis.

The movie is direct, information-packed and sometimes lyrically personal. It’s an example of great documentary filmmaking. All you have to do is ask yourself is: Do I find spies interesting? If you answer yes, see The Man Nobody Knew.

The Man Nobody Knew is playing at the Lagoon Cinema.

Now for something entirely different: Le Havre.

If you love the look of French movies from the 60s and 70s, the Le Havre is a treat waiting for you at the theater.

Made by Aki Kaurismäki, the movie is an adventure about an aging shoe-shiner (Marcel) who happens upon and helps an African boy in the French port city of Le Havre.

The boy arrives with many other refugees in a cargo ship, flees when French port authorities arrive and then finds himself waist deep in the Atlantic. Marcel, rather despondent (he is poor, his wife is in the hospital), finds the boy and takes pity on him. Marcel gives the boy bread, a place to sleep and then agrees to help the boy get to his destination: London.

The adventure unfolds with the simplicity of a video game. Marcel decides to help and nearly empties his savings for the good of the cause. It’s heartwarming, sad and somewhat silly. The film’s style only makes it seem more so.

Every movement in the movie, every facial expression, every step, every drag on a cigarette happens with a dreamy languor in which emotion and character pop like soap bubbles. It’s delightful. However, it is such a soft spectacle that the movie risks being boring.

I’ve never said this before about a movie: But I think Le Havre is a perfect one in which to fall in and out of sleep. I don’t mean this as an insult to the film. It’s just so dreamy by itself that it sort of makes sense for the audience’s consciousness to taper off for a bit and arrive again in a world of wonderful images. Anyway, it’s just a suggestion.

Also, Le Havre is pretty funny in a dark, quirky, discreet sort of way.

Le Havre is playing at the Edina Cinema.


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