Romantically starving in a garret we meet five friends (Paris 1850) – the poet Rodolfo, the painter, Marcello, a singer, Musetta, a musician, Schaunard and a philosopher, Colline.
So poor and broke Rodolfo burns some of his writing page by page to try and warm up, Colline comes in grumbling that the pawn broker will not take his books but then Schaunard brings some cheer entering with fuel for the fire and provisions, wine and money; he has been fortunate enough to land a job and tells them that he will treat them all to a meal in a cafe to celebrate.
As they sit drinking the landlord arrives for the rent and is plied with wine enough to loosen his tongue and starts talking about the affairs that he has had since his marriage, disapproving they throw him out and divide the rent money between themselves and go out, except for Rodolpo who has to finish a newspaper article but he promises to meet up with them soon.
Rodolpo is busy writing when there is a knock at the door, Mimi a seamstress who lives in the flat below asks for a match for her candle which has blown out, she thanks him and leaves only to discover that she has lost her flat key and returns again. As the door shuts behind her the candles all blow out and they stumble around in the dark. Rodolpo finds the key but puts it in his pocket hoping to have more time with Mimi, after a while he hears his friends calling to him and they both go out to join them.
On Christmas eve the streets are very busy and Rodolpo buys Mimi a bonnet whilst his friends go into a café and Musetta, Marcello’s old love comes in behind them arm in arm with an old man and hoping to catch Marcello’s eye, because she is fed up with the old man, sings a naughty song. She pretends to have something wrong with her shoe and sends the old man to get it fixed. Marcello, madly jealous now, folds her in his arms.
Outside they hear a military parade and carrying Musetta between them they go out into the street. When the old man returns he is presented with the bill and, shocked at the amount, he sinks into a chair.
At a toll gate a few months later Mimi passes through the gate coughing and finds Marcello living in a little tavern by the gate, she is looking for Rodolpo who has broken up with her that night and tells Marcello of her hard life with him. Rodolpo appears and Mimi hides to hear him explain that he has broken up with Mimi because she is sick and needs a rich old man to look after her. Marcello tries to stop him speaking, knowing that Mimi is listening but she coughs and Rodolpo realises, the two then speak of their love for each other but agree to separate. Marcello is heard arguing with Musestta in the background.
Back in the attic room later Rodoplo and Marcello are both depressed at losing their loved ones when the other two
boys arrive with a small amount of food. To cheer everybody up they decide to pretend they have a feast before them and start dancing. Musetta suddenly appears with Mimi. Mimi had taken up with a rich old man but had since left him, wandering the streets and getting sicker.
They sit her down and leave her with Rodolpo as they set off to sell things to get her medicine and warm clothes. Rodolpo gives Mimi the bonnet that he had bought her on Christmas eve and says that he kept it because of his love for her. The others return with muff and medicines for her, saying that a doctor has been called but, sadly it is too late, and Mimi dies in Rodolpo’s arms as he cries for her.
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