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  • memento-34 December 2003
    Aki Kaurismaki is one of the most important modern directors. He manages to make a movie out of nothing just like, say, Mike Leigh. And his characters are simply every-day people, whom he manages to transform into convincible movie heroes or, most likely, antiheroes.

    This movie is not different: it is very sad and also joyous at the same time. It treats a very serious subjects (pourness, loneliness, desperation) without being pathetic or overblown and it makes, in the most beautiful way, a strong connection between the characters and the viewer.

    Marvellous acting and genious direction makes this movie another Kaurismaki's little/big masterpiece.
  • Aki Kaurismäki's third literary adaptation, Bohemian Life, may also be his best. Crime and Punishment was brilliantly made (and, remarkably, that was his directorial debut) and Juha is a masterful tragedy, not to mention a magnificent revival of the silent film. As for Hamlet Goes Business, the conclusion was a little overdone, but overall it remains an interesting version of Shakespeare's play. But it's in Bohemian Life, based on Henri Murger's story collection, that Kaurismäki's passion for the subject is felt the most. He always wanted to make this film, and when he finally did the result was wonderful.

    Beautifully shot in black and white, the film explores the intertwined lives of three artists living in Paris: a French playwright, Marcel Marx (André Wilms), an Irish composer, Schaunard (Kari Väänänen), and an Albanian painter, Rodolfo (Matti Pellonpää). Together, they struggle to maintain a certain decency in their lives, whether that involves tricking their landlord or using a customer's (Jean-Pierre Léaud, grandiose as Rodolfo's portrait model) jacket for a couple of hours without the latter noticing anything. They don't demand much, in fact their friendship is more than enough to ensure life goes on fairly well.

    At this point, a new character appears: Mimi (Evelyne Didi), a barmaid. Rodolfo falls in love with her, and from there on, things begin to change, and not for the best: the Albanian is sent back home, and when he returns, six months later, everything's different. Can old bonds be restored? Can the situation go back to the way it was? Kaurismäki takes his time to make us acquainted with his characters (hence the unusually long running time - most of his films run to 70 minutes, 80 tops; this one is 100 minutes long), and that's why the movie hits us hard when it has to: having followed their combined fates since the beginning, we have the feeling that we know them, a fact that contributes to making the sucker-punch epilogue even more devastating.

    The three bohemians are humble but nice people: the simplicity of their lifestyle makes us connect with them on a visceral level, cheering for them when life's good and crying when it suddenly turns bad. Pellonpää, in particular, gives the performance of a lifetime (alongside Shadows in Paradise), his brooding yet incredibly sweet Rodolfo being the heart and soul of this movie (most unforgettable moment, upon being asked by Mimi to be an Albanian gentleman: "Gentleman, no. Albanian, yes").

    Bohemian Life represents a successful transfer of Finnish mentality and attitudes to a timeless Paris: you never stop and think there's something that doesn't belong there. It's all so perfect, in its sad and happy moments, and Kaurismäki can be very proud of the film he considers to be his favorite.
  • This is a hypothermic look at three dropout artists (a writer, a painter, a musician) who live in an undefined time and place (from the look and feel of it, maybe the suburbs of Paris in the 1950ies). The painter (an Albanian) is actually quite good, the writer distinguishes himself by using an overly florid language ("We'll be right back, like arrows thrown by hand."), the musician doesn't know how to play an instrument. They unerringly define themselves as unrecognised (as opposed to untalented) artists, they never have any money, and they give their devoted women a hard time. Kaurismäki portrays them in his unique style which uses pristinely arranged images in conjunction with absurd humour.

    Some people may not get the point. I loved it. I first saw it when it came out in 1992, which was before the internet. I have since managed to google that the movie is based on the same book as Puccini's opera "La bohème". Kaurismäki adopted the book the other way around than Puccini, whereas the opera is colourful and melodramtic, the movie is dour, black-and-white, and minimalistic -- but also funnier.
  • Imagine a Finnish director making a film that's as much a tribute to French film as a parody of its worst excesses, and you have a fair idea of what La Vie de Boheme is about. Aki Kaurismaki uses his thoroughly deadpan comic approach to render the lives of a group of pathetic artists in France, none of whom are even close to being artists (except in their own minds). In fact, it's easy for the uninitiated to take the film very seriously, given Kaurismaki's dry comic touch.

    I caught this at the SF International Film Festival, where a fair part of the audience (including myself) was caught up in laughter - while admiring the painterly black and white photography and perfectly pitched performances. Those uncomfortable with a Jim jarmusch style of post- modernism might even feel lost from time to time. But all of Kaurismaki's film's are comedies, some more outrageous than others, and this one is about as perfect in conception as you might hope.
  • This was phenomenal. Really fun to see Kaurismäki take these Finnish actors and have them act in French and making it really work. I had no idea what to expect and the film blew my away with its drama and humor.

    What really makes this whole thing work is the trio of main characters. They work excellently with each other. They have sharp dialogue, witty fast humor and best of all; They are relate able. This is a film were small moments matter. For example, there's a scene were a person is unable to pay for a meal and an older man overhears it and pays it for the person. What's the explanation for the older man helping? Simple, he was behaving kindly to someone in need. This older man never appears again and has no other relevance, but it works very well here. The inclusion of that moment was nice because it shows you how important those small gestures can be.

    Kari Väänänen was probably my favorite character. He always provided some levity when needed and Andre Wilms always delivered a smart comeback to whatever bad thing faced him, he is like the french Roger Moore (only less upper class). Matti Pellonpää was very subtle and sold all the emotional torment his character went through.

    I can see that Kaurismäki adopted a very classic look to tell this story. The tone feels like an Italian Neo realism film mixed with the elements from Aki's work. There's even a little bit of Ozu in this. Don't know if it was intentional, but I could feel the influence.

    In short: It was witty, smart and fast, but at the same time tragic, joyful and most importantly; very human.
  • A French playwright, an Albanian painter, and an Irish composer, all living hand-to-mouth in Paris, devise various schemes to secure their next meal, or cheat the landlord, or help each other out of jams. Cynically witty and poignant by turns, La Vie de Boheme somehow manages to simultaneously embellish and skewer the old cliche about starving artists on the Left Bank.

    This might almost be the film to show your son or daughter when they have declared that they want to become a novelist or painter and move to an exotic locale--except that, who knows, it might have the opposite of the intended effect.

    I liked it quite a bit. Watch for the performance by the Irishman of his own piano piece for his friends, toward the end: hilarious!
  • Although Aki Kaurismaki credits Henri Murger's collection of stories as the source for his "La vie de boheme" (1992), the underlying dramatic structure actually comes straight from Puccini's opera "La boheme" (with the central focus of the story of Rodolphe and Mimi). Superb black and white photography, with a droll script delivered by mostly dead-pan (but nonetheless funny) performers -- including beloved regulars like the late Matti Pellonpaa and Kari Vaananen (Kati Outinen, a very appropriate Mimi I would think, was missing, however -- maybe her French was not good enough).
  • Aki Kaurismaki's 1992 film LA VIE DE BOHÈME is the Finnish auteur's loose adaptation of Henri Murger's classic 19th-century collection of short stories, set in contemporary Paris with an eclectic cast of French and Finnish actors, all speaking French. As the film opens, the penniless aspiring writer Marcel (André Wilms) is being evicted from his apartment. Though a series of amusing events, he falls in with the equally aspiring and penniless painter Rodolfo (Matti Pellonpää) and composer Schaunard (Kari Väänänen). The film then tracks their comical struggles to make money, gain lasting fame, or charm women in spite of their lack of a stable existence (Evelyne Didi plays a major supporting role as Rodolfo's girlfriend Mimi). Though the three men are perennially underdogs, their firm friendship and readiness to share what little they have makes the film a heartwarming experience.

    The poorly spoken French of the foreign actors, as well as the mismatch between the ostensibly 1992 setting and the decaying interiors, must have seemed bizarre for viewers who didn't know Kaurismäki before. However, it is quite of a piece with this director's prior work. Kaurismäki had made a number of films in his native Helsinki that are ostensibly set in the present day, but feature ramshackle tenements, working-class struggles, and antique appliances that are all right out of the 1950s. At some point, a band will appear on a stage playing high-energy rock music from a bygone age. In LA VIE DE BOHEME, Kaurismäki has reused the exact same elements in a Parisian context. He managed to find decrepit places one would have never expected in the modern city, and in one scene a punk band perform even if it has little relevance to the overall plot. While Rodolfo and Schaunard are explained as Albanian and Irish immigrants, respectively, they are really bringing to this film a typically Finnish quality.

    One of the quirks of Kaurismäki's Finnish-language output is that the actors deliver their deadpan, almost robotic lines in the Finnish literary language, which is vastly different from the ordinary Finnish spoken language. Kaurismäki has managed to create a similar effect here by lifting dialogue from Murger's original book, as in 19th-century stories the actors often speak with elaborate constructions and literary flair that is completely unrealistic for the particular setting. There's also an amusing opposition between the garrulous Marcel and -- remember, the characters' Irish or Albanian back stories need not be taken seriously -- the silent, stony other characters, as the Finns are an infamously taciturn race.

    Still, Kaurismäki's applications of his perennial formula are usually very entertaining, and I never tire of his darkly humorous vision. And even if most of the other elements are the same as always, LA VIE DE BOHEME features an unexpected ending. Usually in Kaurismäki you can foresee the nice little ending that's going to come from a mile away, but here he takes the viewer by surprise.

    Cinema aficionados will enjoy the small roles of a sugar baron, played by legendary French New Wave actor Jean-Paul Léaud, and a publishing magnate, played by American director Samuel Fuller. (Viewers who don't know who Fuller is will think it odd that he exits the stage with some profanity spoken in English and a distinctive old-timey New York Jewish accent!) This might not be the best introduction to Kaurismäki -- the films making up the so-called "Proletariat Trilogy" of the late 1980s might work better for that. Still, for me LA VIE DE BOHÈME was a funny and touching picture.
  • Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's black and white adaptation of Scene de la Vie de Boheme (originally a non fiction book by Henri de Murger dealing with the lives of the starving bohemian artists of the Paris of the first decades of the 19th century, and later a famous opera by Puccini) is surprisingly faithful to its source material, despite its modern settings. The place is still Paris, and the film closely follows both the book and the opera, with the proud but poor artists living at the day to day to survive in the city of lights. We even have the famous burning of the manuscripts to get some heat during the cold winter. The late Matti Pellonpaa, a Kaurismaki regular, stars as Rodolfo, as well as other less known, but equally fine actors (the actress playing Mimi, however, fails to create an impression). There are a couple of cameos by Nouvelle Vague faves Jean-Pierre Leaud and Samuel Fuller. Note: Later, Rent, a less accomplished modern retelling of La Vie de Boheme, this time set on New York City, was also produced, first on stage, and later on film.
  • I wondered why I was actually laughing at a French film until I realized it was made by Finns. Reminded me a lot of Buster Keaton, except that the pratfalls are mostly cerebral. Deadpan comedy with style. The black dog was the Finnish Rin-Tin-Tin. I hope he got a nice bone for his efforts.
  • the movie is about three scoundrelly, starving, yet genuine artists. i loved the acting, rudolfo in particular is perfect to the T, and story of the 3 artists, since i felt i could identify with them, being a poor, un-understood writer/artist myself (yeah i know one among many thousands, but that does not detract). the movie is not too ham handed about this aspect and keeps the first part of the film very lively, with loves and adventures galore. the second part is slightly more serious what with an unexpected ending. the movie did not have the tight ending and core cohesiveness that is required of masterpieces. part of it may be that it is adapted from a book written in 1888, henri munger's - Scenes de la Boheme. by the way the director is flemish!!! highly amusing, the men seem hip to the scene and even when forlorn are in a trendy down-trodden people's bar (without the street thugs/drunks), cigarette's dangling perpetually from their mouths. the black and white cinematography and overall style of visual composition is spot on. the scene where the musician plays his "original" composition is a hoot. i HIGHLY recommend it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    La Vie de Boheme is an modern Neo-realistic version of the classic french novella "Scenes la vie de Boheme" a mostly forgotten story from the romantic era. Some people will know the story from the very famous opera "La Boheme" by Puccini. The main difference of this from the opera is that it takes a more direct & modern approach to this. The Bohemians are more working class artists than what we would think of as (lazy)starving artists. In the opera Musetta is more of a gold-digging tramp in contrast Musetta in this movie leaves Marcel(lo) to move in with a more stable man as does Mimi. The only real problem I have with the movie is the absence of the philosopher Colline which is a loss.(He pawns his coat to buy medicine for Mimi.) Other than that I would recommend this film for fans of French neo-realism.