Friday, November 21, 2014

#693: La vie de bohème

(Aki Kaurismäki, 1992)

La Vie de Boheme is a delightful little movie that is meticulously realized. At its center are four great and understated performances, surrounded by a visual world that is half fairy tale, half realist. Adapted from the classic novel and moved into an alternate late 20th century, the film tells the story of three awful artists struggling to make something of their lives without sacrificing their art. Kaurismaki manages to avoid glamorizing their idealistic lives while still delivering admirable portraits of all three of them; he pokes fun at their mediocre work without belittling their ambition or their humanity.

Kaurismaki's work here reminded me strongly of two other Criterion directors: Wes Anderson and Mike Leigh. In many ways, Kaurismaki's work is just as stylized and ambitious as Anderson's, but La Vie de Boheme (and his more recent Le Havre) lack any of the precious self-awareness of even Anderson's best work. This primarily stems from his core humanism, a dogged determination to sympathize with his characters at all costs. Leigh has a similar affinity for his characters, but his films lack the whimsy of Kaurismaki, and often descend into tragedy. Even as Mimi lays dying at the end of La Vie, Kaurismaki's tone avoids this realm, shifting to a melancholic dream-like state that fits perfectly with the rest of the film.

I really loved this movie. Each shot is a beautiful and surreal portrait of these characters, and the way they relate to each other is endearing and often funny. Too frequently films of this nature are quickly digested and forgotten, while bigger, flashier, but not better movies end up getting the press. Every director should strive to make a film as beautiful as this contained but subtly genius work of art.

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