This article takes sanctuary as a problematizing challenge to the state, coming into effect when political asylum fails or is denied. Sanctuary, it argues, offers a form of protection that does not take legality as its basis or reference point, and in fact often subverts such legality. Thinking with Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre (2011), this article seeks to understand the kinds of “individual” protection that sanctuary makes possible, and what they illuminate about conceptions of refuge that do not require sovereign authorization, but instead find their foundations in interpersonal relationality, solidarity, and community formations. Through a “flat migrant aesthetics”—deadpan, anti-realism, and unarticulated motivation—Kaurismäki’s film dislodges automated perceptions and clichéd narrative expectations to redirect attention to human solidarities and the building of sanctuary, on and off screen.
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