Of the many stories told about Aki Kaurismäki’s cinema, the Bohemian story is one of the most overlooked. Yet on his appointment as Artist of the Academy by Finnish President Tarja Halonen in 2007, Kaurismäki cited Henri Murger, remarking, ‘Youth is but once.’ Kaurismäki of course adapted the collection of stories that is the source of that citation, Scènes de la vie de bohème. The clichés of Bohemia also recur in his films: poverty fosters truth, wealth breeds corruption, alcohol, food, and art are associated with vitality. But where does the Bohemianism come from? On the one hand, it comes from Kaurismäki’s well-known Francophilia. But there is another source, punk rock and its Finnish appropriation in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The director’s minimalist, homemade, anti-institutional ethos is the same one we find in notions of punk rock. Musicians associated with punk appear frequently in Kaurismäki’s films, from quasi-punk Finnish figures such as Martti Syrjä and Ismo Alanko to Nicky Tesco and Joe Strummer. When we recognize the connection between Bohemia, punk, and Kaurismäki’s cinema, Kaurismäki’s cinema appears to be much more concerned with the aesthetics of cultural struggle, and much less with national nostalgia. Resituating Kaurismäki’s cinema in this way contributes to a revisionist argument about his significance in Scandinavian and European auteur cinema.
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