Genre: Comedy • Drama
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Starring: Matti Pellonpää, Evelyne Didi, André Wilms, Kari Väänänen, Christine Murillo, Jean-Pierre Léaud
Duration: 100 min.
A contemporary dramatic retelling of the story most familiar to audiences from Puccini's great opera La Bohème.
La vie de bohème translated as The Bohemian Life, is a film by Aki Kaurismäki loosely based upon Henri Murger's writings Scènes de la vie de bohème. It premiered at the 1992 Berlin International Film Festival, winning the FIPRESCI prize in the Forum of New Cinema.
Kaurismäki's first French language film, it follows the lives of three struggling artists on the edge of society. Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a would be playwright and magazine editor; Rodolfo (Matti Pellonpää), an Albanian painter illegally living in France; and Schaunard (Kari Väänänen), an Irish composer. Every so often when one of them strikes a windfall, and only by dumb luck since it's painfully obvious all three lack any artistic talents, they frivolously spend and share it just as quickly, living it up until they are right back where they began.
Kaurismäki achieves a visual feel that evokes an earlier era, the way the characters dress and speak are outdated, and the cars and taxis are 1960's models. Stylish black and white cinematography is used to emulate the look of the classics, and to portray a gritty and run down side of Paris that matches the status of our perpetually down on their luck protagonists. If not for some anachronisms like digital signage and a modern service station, it would be easy to assume that this was set in something other than contemporary times.
It would also be easy to look at the premise and description and assume a grim and utterly depressing film, however the result is just the opposite. La vie de bohème is immensely amusing, filled with deadpan comedy, absurdities, subtle nods to the director's cinematic and philosophic heroes, as well as a couple clever self referential scenes; in the first, a broke Rodolfo steals a bouquet of roses from the grave of Henri Murger to give to his new love; in the second, the two love interests Mimi (Evelyne Didi) and Musette (Christine Murillo) attend a performance of Puccini's La Bohème at the opera.
Not exactly a story of heroes, yet Kaurismäki knows just how to make these men who never grew up, likeable and hilarious to watch without overdoing it, and the three central performances are spot on. This was my first exposure to Aki's work, (I figured I had to at least see this one before attending a screening of its loose sequel Le Havre this week), I'm really excited to seek out the rest of his catalog if they are anything like this.
— Bonjour Tristesse