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LA VIE DE BOHÈME

Finland / France (MIFF 1992)

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Aki Kaurismaki (subject of a 1990 MFF Spotlight) returns with a deadpan remake of La Boheme, which seems to owe as much to the comic bonhomie of Lubitsch's Design For Living, or the romantic black-and-white Paris of the Nouvelle Vague, as it does to the triple-hanky Puccini opera adapted from Murgers's 1851 novel (Kaurismaki claims this is his revenge on Puccini).

The story follows three artist types — Rodolfo the painter (Matti Pellonpaa), Marcel the writer (Andre Wilms) and Schaunard the composer (Kari Vaananen), who are thrown together by a series of coincidences involving a repossessed apartment and a two-headed trout. They join forces, as partners in deadbeat desperation, to make their way to fame and fortune.

Kaurismaki plots a lurching curve of then-rise and fall, charting the points in his laid-back style of cheap jokes and low-key buffoon­ery, artfully extracting humour from his characters, their situations and even from inan­imate objects. And speaking of inanimate objects, one of the best laughs comes from guest star Jean-Pierre Leaud as a wide-eyed, quizzical face in a portrait painted by Rodolfo for a bargain basement price and two tickets to the opera.

Kaurismaki's work displays a love affair with the cinema, and this latest film is no different, evoking with abandon misty black-and-white images of pre-war Paris a la Renoir —just as our vagabond heroes motor off in a three-wheeled mini-car. Revenge has never been so sweet.

• Tait Brady

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