Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
France/Germany/Sweden/Finland, 1992. Sputnik, Pyramide Productions, Films A2, Pandora Filmproduktion, Svenska Filminstitutet, Canal+, Sofinergie 2, Centre National De La Cinematographie. Screenplay by Aki Kaurismaki, based on the novel Scenes de la Vie de Boheme by Henri Murger. Cinematography by Timo Salminen. Produced by Klaus Heydemann, Aki Kaurismaki. Production Design by John Ebden. Costume Design by Simon Murray. Film Editing by Veikko Aaltonen.
Henri Murger’s novel, most famously adapted as an opera by Puccini and also as the musical Rent by Jonathan Larson, is here given the subtle, wry treatment by Aki Kaurismaki. Matti Pellonpää, André Wilms and Kari Väänänen play three starving artists in Paris, a painter, writer and composer, whose attempts to stay true to the pursuit of great art is constantly at odds with their having to barely scrape by on a meager living. At the heart of the situation is Pellonpaa’s relationship with a beautiful woman (Evelyne Didi) of whom he tries to be worthy but is also held back by his own precarious circumstances (he’s an illegal immigrant from Romania). Shot in beautiful black and white with deep recessive shadows, it’s a great example of Kaurismaki’s wonderful ability to make films with such formal dialogue and blocking that at the same time feel spontaneous and whimsical. His characters rarely break their stony gazes and say such careful words to each other (in this case given added charm by the fact that the Finnish actors are speaking their French dialogue phonetically); it’s not so much a monotonous trance that they are all in, but a romantic reverie, served extremely well by Kaurismaki’s distilled adaptation of Murger’s story and the dreamy imagery. It feels like it’s a bit longer than it needs to be, but it it is rich with rewards, memorable moments and very good performances.