For Reel

La Vie de Bohème (1992)
November 22, 2015, 11:45 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Aki Kaurismäki
3.5 Stars
La Vie de BohemeThe three outcasts of La Vie de Bohème live in a ramshackle apartment and possess items that might as well be a century old. In this way, director Aki Kaurismäki seems to have no intention of “updating” the famed Henri Merger short stories or the Italian opera on which the film is based. Instead, this story of three struggling artists is incorporated into Kaurismäki’s worldview seamlessly, suggesting a certain timelessness to his outsiders. Both artists and castaways seem to exist within their own sense of temporal space, often invested in a sort of sentimentality and simplicity that suggests a very particular type of idealized “honest” living. Yet Kaurismäki’s envisioning of this space is not grimy as a director like Shirley Clarke might have portrayed it, rather one that prides itself on both a sense of naturalism and a certain Hollywood stylization in the high contrast lighting techniques. If Frank Borage’s depression-era dramas were updated for this generation, they would probably look something like this. La Vie de Bohème’s deadpan humor is effective, but what leaves a greater impression is actually the doomed romances–this is a film that thrives on contrasts, and no greater is the contrast between the dark, fatalistic Finnish humor and the melodramatics of a tragic romance.

The Long Day Closes (1992)
March 26, 2012, 11:12 pm
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Director: Terence Davies

What has been called Terence Davies’ second autobiographical trilogy – preceded by Distant Voices and Still Lives, two short films which were released together as his first feature in 1988 – concludes with his masterpiece, The Long Day Closes. Like Distant Voices, Still Lives, he sets his focus on Liverpool, here about a decade after the end of the war. Whereas the previous film had no surrogate for Davies – in fact, that film doesn’t have a particularly strong sense of character outside of the memorably vicious father – the young boy at the center of The Long Day Closes is clearly a substitute for the filmmaker. An early shot shows the boy longingly glancing at a shirtless bricklayer. With beautiful economy, Davies articulates his burgeoning identity as a homosexual, and the subsequent guilt that he feels because of it (later, the same bricklayer is seen in the boy’s daydreams as Christ on the cross). The film’s most memorable sequence occurs near the end of the picture. “Tammy”, the song sung by Debbie Reynolds in 1957’s Tammy and the Bachelor, plays on the soundtrack as the audience of a cinema is presented in an overhead shot that slowly pans from right to left. This dissolves into a similar shot of church-goers from above, and finally dissolves again into students in a classroom. Davies is a master at finding poetry in the ordinary, exemplified no better than in such a montage – as Jonathan Rosenbaum points out, his achronological style favors “emotional continuity over narrative continuity.” This could be called one of the finest coming-of-age pictures, although categorizing it as such does a tremendous disservice to its incomparable sense of invention and discovery.