With a purposefully impassive sensibility and a masterful timelessness, Aki Kaurismӓki delivers an extraordinary treatment of Henri Murger’s oft adapted novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, which has found itself translated to the small and big screen many times. Its most notable translations have been to the stage, where it first found broader popularity in 1849 (the adaptation to the theater, with Théodore Barrière, gave the story life beyond its initial publication a few years before). Director Aki Kaurismӓki’s 1992 adaptation stands out as a surprisingly delightful, dry, and drifting view of three artist’s lives that is neither sentimental nor stagy, and remains a simply wonderful piece of cinema.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: French 1.0 PCM (Mono)
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 43 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital CopyClear Criterion case
Release Date: 01/21/2014
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
“What do you say we lubricate this explanation?”Three poor artistes living unconventional lives, attached to their artistic pursuits, come together by the equality of their economic predicament. They exist under the same roof and are a ramshackle trio without plans or purpose beyond the indulgence of their creativity. They are Marcel (André Wilms), a poet and playwright, Rodolfo (Matti Pellonpää), a painter and immigrant from Albania, and Schaunard (Kari Väänänen), a womanizing composer. Each are fond of drinking, living life with barely change in their pockets, and dedicated, to their detriment, to their bohemian lives.
Their fates seem to take an uptick to the better when Rodolfo meets Mimi (Evelyne Didi) and Marcel is given a generous sum from a magazine publisher for work he will eventually fail at performing – properly; but despite these momentary positive flourishes of life’s gifts, an inevitability of failure creeps over their lives. Rodolfo is deported back to Albania, losing the girl he honestly loves, Marcel burns through his good fortune, and Schaunard displays a relentlessness in his disheveled, tousled existence. And though Rodolfo eventually finds his way back into France, and to Paris again with the help of his two friends where he takes his former girlfriend from her new boyfriend (and better financial circumstances), tragedy is soon in sight.
There is no melodrama here, no pauses for sympathy or turns for concern. La Vie De Bohème is devoid of such overtness and instead favors deadpan delivery and punctuated performances that riddle the film with moments of humor and sadness born naturally from the patiently paced scenes. An abstractness in the dialogue, delivered by actors adept at earnest bemusement and tailored trials, enriches the sourness of their financial predicament. But rather than ask the audience to either pity or appreciate the penniless lives of these artists, we are asked to simply watch these three care less about worldly possessions and only concern themselves with their lack of funds when it’s time to eat, drink, or slip away to avoid paying the rent. And that is where its genius lay. Only in Rodolfo are we able to connect more closely with their lives, through his love of Mimi, though he can neither provide for nor indulge her. But even in that connection we are taken aside and bear witness to a frank fidelity of fatalism. And from that, the final moments become most touching.
The echoes of Finnish director Kaurismӓki’s approach can be found quite notably in the works of Wes Anderson, whose characters display a straightness of face and adroitness of dialect wholly similar to the impoverished trio in found in Bohème. This clever film uses dialogue as a humorous dance, with quirks and staid poses, and it’s a delight to wander in to this borrowed bohemian world. Filmed in highly textured black and white, with gorgeous cinematography by Timo Salminen, La Vie De Bohème is both a new vision of Murger’s work and a timeless ode. A visit to Henri Murger’s grave by Rodolfo and mentions of visits to the opera (where Muger’s novel was famously adapted into the opera La bohème) display an awareness of this work’s familiarity in audiences, and remains a unique take on the rich material.
Criterion delivers La Vie De Bohème on Blu-ray in a dual release with a DVD version of the film. This new high definition digital transfer was supervised by director Aki Kaurismӓki using a 35mm fine grain positive and it is splendid. Rich contrasts, superb detail, deep, deep black levels and the full grain and texture of the film is untarnished by unwanted excess digital tinkering. It is a lush transfer and beautiful from the first to the last frame with only the faintest wisp of some imperfections popping up on the fewest of occasions.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The monaural French audio track was, according to the accompanying booklet, “remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm optical soundtrack negative,” and it’s flawlessly presented here. Simply put, with the exception of the unusual rock performance of “Surfin’ Bird” in a bar, the audio is near-exclusively dialogue concerned, and in that regard, is perfect. Crisp and on point, the clarity of each word uttered is without issue
Audio Rating: 5/5
It should be noted that neither Matti Pellonpää (Rodolfo) nor Kari Väänänen (Schaunard) speak a word of French. They each sounded out their dialogue phonetically. Speaking only the smallest amount of French, I could not detect this, but it has been so long since I was in France or was learning that language that I am likely not a good ear to detect this workaround anyway. Still, quite the feat.
English subtitles have been provided.
André Wilms: André Wilms, who played the poet/writer narrowly obsessed with his work and the works of literary greats, Marcel, is interviewed here, sharing his thoughts on working with director Kaurismӓki and the creation of the Marcel character.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Where is Musette?: A behind the scenes documentary, running a little shy of an hour, features an interesting peak behind the curtain of production and contains interviews in various languages with some of the cast and crew.
12-Page Booklet: Another fine accompanying booklet, with notes by Luc Sante, offers insight into the production and the final film.
DVD version of the Film
La Vie De Bohème gives us a down and out world filled with tomorrow’s victory forever a day out of reach and burnished lives existing only in the grandiose ideas of three artists hoping to realize an artistic solvency. It would seem such success and recognition is fated to be out of step with their narrow and unkempt lives. It’s dark at times but marvelously and honestly very funny. Superbly performed and beautifully shot.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Neil Middlemiss
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