The Bohemian Life is almost a farce. Kaurismäki is doing a version of the La bohème story–though he’s not concerned with it being a modernization as much as filming it in modernity–and his use of symbolism is exaggerated. He’s making sure the viewer knows what he’s doing and why. These moments of exaggeration don’t come until well into Life’s second half. It’s like he’s given the viewer a chance to check out, which is an interesting approach–Life is targeted towards the appreciating audience.
The symbolism isn’t the first time Kaurismäki tasks his viewer in Life. He opens the film following André Wilms’s comically misinformed, consistently unemployed intellectual. Through Wilms, Kaurismäki moves the focus of the film to painter Matti Pellonpää and his eventual romance with Evelyne Didi.
Didi and Christine Murillo (as Wilms’s girlfriend) are “just” the girlfriends. Kaurismäki writes some wonderful scenes for the pair, especially one featuring some really muted symbolism amidst all the Technicolor (Life’s black and white) examples.
The film’s superbly acted from all parties. Pellonpää is exceptional. The actors are always earnestly dramatic, even during some of the sillier exchanges. Actually, because of their seriousness, Life never gets silly.
Kaurismäki’s direction relies a lot on movement, but rarely the camera. He and photographer Timo Salminen point the camera and let the action play out. When the camera does move, it’s usually for Kaurismäki’s subtler observations. Fantastic editing from Veikko Aaltonen too.
Incredibly ambitious, The Bohemian Life is an unqualified success.
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki; screenplay by Kaurismäki, based on a novel by Henri Murger; director of photography, Timo Salminen; edited by Veikko Aaltonen; produced by Klaus Heydemann and Kaurismäki; released by Pyramide Distribution.
Starring Matti Pellonpää (Rodolfo), Evelyne Didi (Mimi), André Wilms (Marcel), Kari Väänänen (Schaunard), Christine Murillo (Musette), Jean-Pierre Léaud (Blancheron) and Laika (Baudelaire).