La Vie En Rose
- Film Worth:$11.00
- FILMINK rates movies out of $20 - the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
Iconic singer Edith Piaf is given the biopic treatment in this eye-catching epic by little...
Iconic singer Edith Piaf is given the biopic treatment in this eye-catching epic by little known French director Oliver Dahan (Crimson Rivers 2). His bold film attempts to cover the entirety of her tragic life - from rural France to urban New York, from the 1920s to the 1960s, from the bottom to the top. There's a lot of ground to cover and he doesn't waste time in bringing a formidable Piaf - feared by all, hated by none, loved by everyone - to glorious life.
Dahan commences at the end of Piaf's career, moments before she collapses on stage in front of a shocked audience. Without explaining her plight, he back-tracks to the muddy ruin of Belleville, where young Edith (played by Manon Chevallier at five-years-old and Pauline Burlet at ten), a virtual orphan, is raised on the war-torn streets of Paris. Her inadequate mother frequently leaves the tot to fend for herself while pursuing her "career". This actually means singing on street corners for their supper, a talent that Edith will inherit and put to good use. First, her absentee father returns from the circus to take his daughter, now blind with conjunctivitis, into the care of her stern, brothel-running grandmother. Fortune smiles upon them until the unemployed acrobat resumes his parental duty and "discovers" his daughter's talent during a hearty, impromptu rendition of "La Marseillaise". Emboldened through song, the sprightly, popular youngster proves her worth and is soon rediscovered by nightclub owner Louis Leplee (Gerard Depardieu). Before you can say "no regrets", the little sparrow has become a revered, international performer.
La Vie En Rose bounces across Piaf's complicated life, cutting from past to present in a bewildering juxtaposition of time and events to better explain her tortured, emotional state. Unsettling at first, the staccato style creates a bewitching pastiche of the singer, particularly once she establishes herself as a performer, though often at the detriment of those around her. Dahan indulges lesser scenes to the misfortune of minor players who could further explain, and counter, Piaf's extreme behaviour.
But we're not here for the entrée, and actress Marion Cotillard provides a magnificent main course. Best known for her turn as a prostitute in A Very Long Engagement and her trysts with Russell Crowe in A Very Good Year, Cotillard delivers a monumental performance as the adult Edith Piaf. It's nothing short of a tour-de-force. Oscillating between childish petulance and tyrannical outbursts, Piaf's behaviour swerves dangerously toward untenable. Compounded by alcoholism and morphine addiction, the tantrums, unguarded resolve and diva-like antics of this fearsome artist would become unsympathetic in less certain hands. It's a measure of Cotillard's tremendous presence that she can make us care at all. Yet she does, embodying Piaf with utter conviction from the wide-eyed, somewhat hysterical newcomer through misfortune, misery, addiction, illness and heartache until her untimely death at 47, a physical wreck who looked closer to 90.
Dahan's character development is well served by the luscious camera work of cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata, while robust production design further strengthens his hand. Even during Piaf's most excitable moments, Cotillard manages to access and expose the damaged heart that lay at the core of a world-class musical career. Piaf's stern announcement that American audiences didn't get her, any more than she got them, underlines the isolation she felt at most levels of her life. Her determination to perform despite debilitating illness expands the point. A touching scene in which Piaf learns of the sudden death of her celebrity lover, married boxer Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins), is elegantly delivered, yet packs an emotional punch that confirms Dahan is on track even when his subjective style flirts dangerously with romanticism. He manages key songs with equal dexterity, allowing us to wallow, if only for a moment, in the lime-light once reserved for France's greatest singer. While his bustling tone won't suit all tastes, La Vie En Rose is an exhilarating film, right to the last breathtaking, show-stopping moment of defiance.