I need to make a note to myself not to watch films when I am tired and it is getting very late. My takes on the films are usually not good because I cannot wait for them to be over so I can go to bed. When I watched La Bohème I was looking to watch a quick film because I had had a long day and I was getting pretty tired (I am such an old fart I went to bed before eleven thirty. Go me). Unfortunately the way I feel about La Bohème is not that great although I am sure if I had watch it when I was not ready to practically pass out I would have still found it a bit boring.
The story takes place in France in the 1830s in the Latin Quarter. A landlord is coming to his apartment building to collect the month’s rent. Times are hard and the artistic tenants give the landlord an especially tough time. Rodolphe (John Gilbert) and his friend share an apartment. Rodolphe is an aspiring playwright while his three friends are either a singer (I believe I cannot remember), a music player with a monkey, and a painter. They freeze in the numbing winter cold slaving away at their passions in life. Rodolphe tries to trick the landlord saying he forgot that the first was the week before the landlord is not fooled. Luckily before the end of the night when they were to be kicked out they come into money from selling or peddling things.
Next door to the artists Mimi (Lillian Gish) is not so lucky. She embroiders to make money and business is not very good. The landlord tries to be nice to her but he tells her very sternly she has until that night to get the money or she is out. Mimi tries to raise the money but all seems lost until she meets a man who almost runs over her named Vicomte Paul. Paul sees what building Mimi goes into and asks where she lives.
Rodolphe’s friends also find food for themselves that night. Rodolphe was invited but he decided not to go. He looks out the window and sees Mimi across the way. Mimi goes over his room where he breaks the leg of a chair to put in the heater for her to warm up. She is so shy she rushes back to her room. Mimi is on her way out of the building when Rodolphe and his friends see her and drag her into the apartment for some food and fun. They all say they will take care of Mimi like a dear friend.
One Vicomte Paul comes by Mimi’s apartment. He is interested in her embroidery work and asks her for several commissions. Rodolphe wanted her to come out with him and his friends but she pushed him away since the vicomte was at her place. She did not tell him about the vicomte so when Rodolphe sees the two of them together he gets angry and upset. When Paul leaves Rodolphe tells Mimi he felt jealous even though he has no right to be.
Spring finally pushes winter right along. All the friends and Rodolphe and Mimi take a carriage ride out to the country. Rodolphe professes his love to Mimi. From that time on both their lives have meaning a purpose. Rodolphe works on his play vigorously because Mimi has become his inspiration. Mimi now has someone in her life to cherish.
One day Mimi delivers Rodolphe’s writings to the paper he is employed to. The boss says that Rodolphe is a few weeks late on his articles and has no use for him anymore. Mimi does not want Rodolphe to give up on his play so she decides she will not tell him that he has been fired and she will work day and night to make enough money to give him. Working day and night for the man she loves takes its toll on her health. Mimi becomes weak, thin, and pale.
Vicomte Paul comes by one day. He sees a piece of Rodolphe’s play on Mimi’s table. She practically knows the play by heart from all the times Rodolphe has told her what he has written. She acts out some of the scenes and Paul likes what he hears. He tells Mimi he has a friend who is a theater manager and he will gladly give Rodolphe’s play to his friend. After her performance and the excitement at the news she begins to have a coughing fit and Paul rushes to her side where she fell on the floor. Rodolphe climbs from his window over to Mimi’s and sees the pair on the floor. After the vicomte leaves Rodolphe rips his play up and says he does not want any help from the man. Mimi still helps Rodolphe out by seeing the theater manager who says he likes the play.
Rodolphe goes out with his friends to a pub one night. He sees his boss, goes to the man, sits next to him, and sneakily asks for an advance and the man says that he released him from the job five weeks ago. Rodolphe realizes that Mimi has been giving him the money he thought he was making from the paper. He goes to her and things are almost forgiven until he sees her in nice shoes from when she went to the theater to see the manager and he thinks she has become a “light woman.” Rodolphe walks out of the room but comes charging back when he hears Mimi coughing violently and falls to the floor. He runs for a doctor but by the time he comes back Mimi is gone leaving behind a letter that she will come back when his play is a success.
Months later Rodolphe’s play is a success but Mimi has not come back to him. He cannot even celebrate because his heart is so heavy with missing her. In that time Mimi has been working in a mill with other women. She collapses to the group too sick to doing anymore. The owner of the mill takes her to her home and gets a doctor. The doctor says that Mimi will not live through the night. When everyone leaves the room, Mimi gets out of bed and struggles for a long time to get back to Rodolphe. She makes it back to the apartment where her room has been kept the same as when she left it. Rodolphe and all the friends rush to her side.
Lillian Gish and John Gilbert were great together. Gish was known for playing women who sacrificed themselves for love and this film was no different for her. I will say Gish was fantastic at the end when Mimi desperately tries to get back to Rodolphe before she dies. You can see the desperation on her face and in her body language she was completely and utterly perfect. I cannot get over the fact that Gish was thirty-three when she made this film and she did not look a day over seventeen. John Gilbert was wonderful. He was so handsome and so full of energy in every scene even in the dramatic scenes.
La Bohème was not a bad silent film but as I said at the beginning I watched it when consciousness was not working for me and I barely paid attention through much of the film. But what I did manage to retain of the story it was not so bad but it was boring and I am sure I would have felt the same way if I had watched it when I was fully awake. I did like King Vidor’s direction there were certain scenes that were excellently directed. La Bohème is considered one of the best and most well known silent films as well as one of Lillian Gish’s best films. I say give the film at least one viewing just to see what it is about.