Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki has taken the mid-19th century stories by Henri Murger and re-fashioned them into a modern, romanticist tale of the plight of a trio of marginal artists. Filmed in black and white, LA VIE DE BOHEME even opens with a scene reminiscent of French films from the
early '30s, picturesque Paris rooftops with the Eiffel Tower in the background. But Kaurismaki's camera almost immediately descends to a squalid courtyard where a drunk is rummaging for empty wine bottles to hand in for a free drink.
The drunk turns out to be writer Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms), who needs a drink to compensate for one more publisher's rejection. When questioned about it by a friendly barman, Marcel unhesitatingly drags out his unwieldy manuscript, a play in 24 acts, for the poor man to read. Marcel's bad luck
has not yet run its course; he notices days too late an eviction notice nailed to the wall of his squalid apartment. He only just manages to salvage his typewriter and some shirts from the avuncular landlord and a menacing thug. That night he meets the laconic Rodolfo (Matti Pellonpaa), an artist
from Albania, who offers to share his restaurant dinner. In return Marcel, already drunk, invites his new friend back to his former apartment, where they meet an avant-garde composer, Schaunard (Kari Vaananen), the new tenant, and so a trio of friends is formed.
Rodolfo may be the most talented of the three; at least he is the only one whom we actually see doing some work. A kindly soul, Rodolfo has a black dog name Baudelaire and gives up his bed one night to a stranded woman, Mimi (Evelyne Didi). So in romantic logic, it is only right that he manages
to sell a painting to a wealthy patron (Jean-Pierre Leaud). With his new found money, Rodolfo buys himself a new jacket and billfold and invites Mimi out to dinner. Pickpocketed while en route, Rodolfo is saved by a kindly fellow diner (French director Louis Malle in a cameo), but his Albanian
passport gets him deported. Luckily, Marcel and Schaunard take care of his dog and paintings, and eventually help him get settled again when he sneaks back into France as a passenger in the trunk of a Trabant still wearing its East German markings.
Marcel, too, has had some luck, getting the assignment to edit a representative issue of a fashion mag owned by a grumpy money bag (expatriate American director Sam Fuller). The trio spend the advance payment in characteristically droll fashion; they soon have an odd three-wheeled car to aid
their misadventures. Rodolfo's love affair with Mimi fluctuates with their economic status, but the proud Rodolfo doesn't allow her to take a job. Soon, hard luck strikes when the publisher fires them, unhappy with the mag's first issue. They are reduced to sharing a submarine sandwich with
Schaunard, and far worse, to listening to his latest composition.
Down on their collective artistic luck, the trio have to pool their money and count on Schaunard's skill at cards to enjoy a good dinner. Rodolfo's sadness ends only when Mimi returns, but she is deathly ill, so the trio gamely chips in to pay for her hospitalization; Marcel sells his
first-editions, Schaunard sells the car, and Rodolfo even works at a drill-press for a while. Mimi's death marks the end of the film, as Rodolfo and Baudelaire wander off into literal darkness.
That Kaurismaki's assorted artists are not talented geniuses is all too clear, but their occasional patrons lack the finer gifts of taste as well. Still, they help one another out in a pinch, and their lies to landlords, pawnbrokers and wealthy benefactors are harmlessly ridiculous. Even
Rodolfo's love for Mimi, despite her occasional lapses, is his great redememptive deed, since it does manage to be more important to him than mere success and even seems to motivate Marcel and Schaunard, who make their own small sacrifices. LA VIE DE BOHEME is a low-key, hard-nosed variant on the
venerable romantic themes its title indicates.
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki has taken the mid-19th century stories by Henri Murger and re-fashioned them into a modern, romanticist tale of the plight of a trio of marginal artists. Filmed in black and white, LA VIE DE BOHEME even opens with a scene re… (more)