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Aki Kaurismäki: La Vie de Bohème

Up today, my latest Humanists column for 3Quarksdaily on Aki Kaurismäki’s La Vie de Bohème:

Do even lovers of world cinema think much about Finland’s working class? Does Aki Kaurismäki think about much else? Clearly, when not thinking about Finland’s working class, he thinks about world cinema, even going so far as to produce a short film thanking Yasujirō Ozu for his influence. “So far I’ve made eleven lousy films,” the Finn says to a pair of portraits of the Japanese master, “and I’ve decided to make another thirty, because I refuse to go to my grave until I have proved to myself that I’ll never reach your level, Mr. Ozu.”

But Kaurismäki has reached Ozu’s level, at least by one particularly objective measure: drinking. Both filmmakers have gone on record measuring out their lives by number of glasses and bottles emptied. While Ozu and his collaborator Kōgo Noda might famously have put away 180 liters of sake in the process of writing each and every script, their films usually focused on characters who might only indulge in a couple rounds after work. Ozu’s people tend to operate under a slow but steady upward mobility, albeit one that sends subtly devastating waves through their long-established but delicate familial relationships. Kaurismäki’s people, who might easily drink instead of working, can count themselves lucky to have any kind of relationships at all.

In Finland as Kaurismäki uses it, you might just as well call the working class the drinking class. When he leaves his homeland for La Vie de Bohème, a part of that simple formula goes missing: the French playwright Marcel, the Albanian painter Rodolfo, and the Irish composer Schaunard want to create and want to find women, but above all, they want not to work. At the point the film begins, getting jobs seems to have transcended the position of priority in their lives to become the unquestioned foundational principle of their lives. Though neither successful nor prosperous by any common definitions of the words, they nevertheless hold themselves up higher than, say, the still-teetering wreckages in the Kaurismäki-influenced Helsinki segment of Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth. As members of what you could call the non-working class, they skirt the standard set of human obligations with a kind of… style.

Read the whole thing here.

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