La vie de Bohème

Forget Puccini: Aki Kaurismäki declared that his aim in this film was to rescue Henri Murger's novel Scènes de la vie de Bohème from the opera and its bourgeois proprieties. As usual with Kaurismäki, the effort is both ironic and improbably sincere. In a black-and-white Paris of timeless shabbiness, dotted with dreary cafes that might as well be in Helsinki, three impoverished artistes-an Albanian painter (Matti Pellonpää), a French writer (André Wilms), and an Irish composer (Kari Väänänen)-struggle against landlords, immigration officials, and a constant shortage of cash to sustain themselves, their loves, and above all, their art. That their art is pretty awful only adds to the movie's deadpan pleasures. Kaurismäki knows how to work the fine line between romantic male dignity and self-mockery, as does Léaud, who puts in brief but significant appearances as a tuxedoed deus ex machina.

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