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Criterion Collection: La Vie De Boheme | Blu-ray Review

Aki Kaurismaki La Vie De Boheme Cover CriterionAs an entry into Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki’s filmography, his 1992 film La Vie De Boheme, which is loosely based on Henri Murger’s Scenes De La Vie De Boheme, (the basis for the famed opera La Boheme), is an excellent starting point. His first French feature, Kaurismaki’s absurdist, deadpan tone is in high gear with this lively look at a trio of disheveled outcasts eking it out as artists on society’s fray.

Three struggling creative types (composer/writer/painter) live together for support and necessity as they try to peddle their own original output. Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms) is an aspiring playwright and magazine editor, and has had considerable difficulty getting someone to publish his latest work, “The Avenger: A Play in 21 Acts.” Rodolfo (Matti Pellonpaa) is an Albanian painter illegally living in Paris, though lucky enough to have found at least one patron to purchase his works. And Schaunard (Kari Vaananen) is an Irish composer who seems to dabble in extremely experimental pieces. All of them experience strokes of blind luck that permit them to help one another, though they spend money as quickly as they receive it. The appearance of Musette (Christine Murillo) and Mimi (Evelyne Didi) in their lives changes things slightly, especially for Rodolfo, who finds himself falling in love with Mimi.

Gorgeously shot in black and white, La Vie De Boheme has the look and feel of something that should have come out of the Nouvelle Vague in the 1960s. While this is certainly the mood Kaurismaki wished to establish, the film isn’t a period piece. Instead, the decision to film in black and white had more to do with the effects of time on the locale, since a 1992 Paris no longer fit the description or spirit of Murger’s novel. Filmed mostly in the suburbs outside of Paris, the result feels deliriously accurate mood of hedonism and reserved abandon. One could almost predict a dour or somber tone glancing at production stills, but Boheme is, for the most part, effervescent and droll, reminiscent of some of Jarmusch’s earlier black and white titles from the decade prior.

Disc Review

La Vie De Boheme, simply put, looks utterly resplendent with this new digital transfer. An essay from Luc Sante and an hour long documentary on the making of the film, Where is Musette? are items of considerable interest. Particularly the latter, which was filmed during the making of Boheme, a stark contrast as we get to see scenes from the film in color. And, a 2012 interview with Andre Wilms, while brief, is also worth a gander, as he discusses Kaurismaki’s techniques (who prefers to work with the same people so he doesn’t have to keep explaining himself) as well as the making of the film.

Final Thoughts

Filled with homages and in-jokes, including Rodolfo stealing a bouquet of flowers from Henri Munger’s grave (and a dog named Baudelaire), there’s a feeling of effortless magic as the film flows through the various foibles of this trio of struggling artists that aren’t very artistic. Jean-Pierre Leaud, who headlined Kaurismaki’s previous feature as a Frenchman who wishes to kill himself in the UK set I Hired a Contract Killer, returns as a recurring gag here as Rodolfo’s only solicitor. And then there’s Sam Fuller in cameo as the owner of a magazine that unwisely hires the hapless Marcel to run his literary rag (and Louis Malle puts in a brief appearance as well). But for all these winning details, it’s Kaurismaki’s regular performers that really shine, particularly Matti Pellonpaa and Evelyne Didi as the film’s romantic item (Didi and Andre Wilms would return to star in Kaurismaki’s loosely based sequel, 2011’s Le Havre). Funny and charming, melancholy and rewarding, La Vie De Boheme is one of Kaurismaki’s best films.

Film Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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