La Vie en Rose
- Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf
- Sylvie Testud as Mômone
- Jean-Pierre Martins as Marcel Cerdan
- Emmanuelle Seigner as Titine
- Gérard Depardieu as Louis Leplée
An unconventional biopic of the hugely talented but deeply troubled French singer Édith Piaf, La Vie en Rose is a largely effective rendering of the tragedy she endured. The pace can be a bit off as can the choice to shoot out-of-order at various intervals, yet the fiercely intense and ward-winning work from Marion Cotillard and the handsome design of the piece, more than compensate for these quibbles and foibles to fashion a theatrical experience.
It is 1918 when Édith is first glimpsed as a girl living in poverty with her mother, who sings in the street for whatever money she can get. Her mother, wanting to be an artist, abandons her daughter with a relative. The little girl’s father returns from the War and takes Édith with him for a very short time. Her father then drops her off at his mother’s place in Normandy, which is a brothel, so he can go back to the circus. Young Édith is a very sickly child who nearly goes blind due to disease, she regains her sight after a long time of being without the use of her eyes. One of the prostitutes there named Titine, becomes something of a maternal figure and nurses her through these hard times. In later years, her absent father returns and forcibly takes her with him to the circus. Yet this doesn’t last and they are left busking on the streets, which is where the young Édith discovers her talent for singing. As she grows into a young woman, she continues to sing on the street, until one day she is discovered by Louis Leplée, who asks her to perform in his nightclub. She is given the last name Piaf( which in French slang means Little Sparrow) owing to her diminutive stature. Her first stab at stardom is cut short when Leplée is murdered, and it is assumed to be the work of men who Édith unintentionally knows, who are in fact nasty criminals on the side. Temporarily stuck in what to do and besmirched by many, she manages to catch the eye of songwriter , whose rigorous and often brutal training helps her with her perfect what would become her dynamic stage persona. Later with a new manager, Édith eventually hits stardom, though it soon turns out to be something that will lead to her downfall as drug addiction, thwarted love affairs( particularly the one with married boxer Marcel Cerdan) and many moments of tragedy that ruin her already temperamental and brittle mind are inflicted on her. Soon the lively woman is replaced by one that is aged well beyond relatively young years, yet still wanting to project passion. The film is depicted as a reverie of her memories from various parts of her short but eventful life, the structure of the film will be discussed later in this review.
Olivier Dahan directs this biopic on the life of the ‘Little Sparrow’ with some interesting ideas and style. While the script takes a bit of getting used to, Dahan and his flair for drama ensure that there is never a dull moment in what is often a moving and painful film. Now the main point of discussion in La Vie en Rose has to be the aforementioned structure of it. The events in life are depicted as a series of vignettes that at first don’t seem to link, but if you look closely actually match up quite a bit. I must say that the nonlinear execution can get quite confusing on occasion and I could have done with a bit more exposition and order, but I understood that the film was eschewing certain tropes of the biopic to conjure up the feeling of her life flashing before her eyes. The feeling of her reflecting on life when she is near the end is backed up by the expressionistic lighting, that mirrors a candle billowing and creating a deep golden colour that could go out any minute. Overall, the representation of her life is complex and sometimes lacks coherence, but still it gets across that she gave so much in her short life, that by the end she had nothing left in her. The use of Piaf’s music deserves credit as a lot of it bleeds into the next scene in a most theatrical and melancholy manner. The famous songs of hers, including the title song and ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ are all here and performed with emotional clarity.
The centre of La Vie en Rose and quote possibly the best thing in the movie is a truly staggering performance from Marion Cotillard, who garnered the Best Actress Oscar for her devastating work playing the iconic Édith Piaf. I can’t think of one thing Cotillard doesn’t put across or express here; there’s the fierce lust for life, tortured frailty, selfish tantrums and deep sadness to be seen throughout. The best way to describe the excellence of Cotillard’s performance is that she doesn’t just play Piaf, she literally lives and breathes this woman with unnerving emotion and realistic conviction. There are moments when you have to pinch yourself that it is Marion Cotillard acting as her work is so convincing and uncanny. Simply put, Marion Cotillard puts in a deep and shattering performance that ensures you won’t ever forget its intensity. Sylvie Testud is pretty good starring as Piaf’s best friend from her youth, who grows distant and resentful of her because of the way she abuses and treats others once she has become a star. I thought Jean-Pierre Martins was well cast as Marcel Cerdan, whose affair with Piaf had a huge impact on her. The scenes he shares with Cotillard are well-played across the board and add to the film. There was a beautiful melancholy and love expressed by Emmanuelle Seigner when portraying the prostitute who became an unlikely figure of motherly love for a very young Édith. Gérard Depardieu appears in the small but important role of the man who discovered Piaf and he does some good work in the limited time he is allotted.
The non chronological narrative may act as more of a hindrance than a help, but as an evocation of the tragic ups and down of life and sensationally played by the wonderful Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose shines with moving moments. Despite a few gripes, La Vie en Rose made its mark on me that I don’t believe I’ll forget it in a hurry.