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An un-chronological look at the life of the Little Sparrow, Édith Piaf (1915-1963). Her mother is an alcoholic street singer, her father a circus performer, her paternal grandmother a madam. During childhood she lives with each of them. At 20, she's a street singer discovered by a club owner who's soon murdered, coached by a musician who brings her to concert halls, and then quickly famous. Constant companions are alcohol and heartache. The tragedies of her love affair with Marcel Cerdan and the death of her only child belie the words of one of her signature songs, "Non, je ne regrette rien." The back and forth nature of the narrative suggests the patterns of memory and association. Written by
Just before the scene where a young soldier plays a song for Edith in her apartment, a supertitle reads "February 1940." The magazine "Paris Match" is on the coffee table. Paris Match was founded in 1949. See more »
[after hearing "Je ne regrette rien" for the first time]
You're marvelous! This is exactly what I've been waiting for! It's incredible! It's me! That's my life, it's me.
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I'm coming to the conclusion that this is the best biopic I have ever seen
It is difficult to overstate the necessary calibre of a woman who was raised in a filthy whorehouse, sung and slept on the street, travelled with the circus, lost her child at 20, went blind for a time, was wrongly accused of murder, struggled with a drug addiction and lost other loved ones by the bucketload in her life, and still got up on stage at the end of her life to sing "Je ne regrette rien". La Môme documents each stage of Edith Piaf's life with creative direction and an intense performance by its lead actress, Martion Cotillard.
Ultimately it is a film that curiously enough does not come down to acting or story so much as it owes everything to its direction by Olivier Dahan. Audiences have been divided thus far on his efforts as they are somewhat unorthodox, but I believe he has truly done something magical with what could have fallen prey to a by-the-numbers biopic approach. In La Môme, the continuity is clipped and fragmentary at several points in the film, with scene 2 melting into scene 1 as opposed to vice versa. The story of Edith seems to fledge itself around two or three story lines simultaneously her youth, her adulthood and her last days.
Marion Cotillard, a personal favourite of mine, is perfect at each of the aforementioned stages, having met the wonders of realistic make-up but also clearly having connected with the character of Edith Piaf. As a young singer she is fumbling and bird-like, but always with raw intensity behind her performance. As an old lady (although from what I understand she was never truly that old at the time of her death) she has transformed into something else a kind of loud, hysterical diva who is alternatively self-depreciative and overbearing, her youthful humility having been quenched by years of alcohol abuse and her bird-like body and gait having been crippled by rheumatism. Only once does Cotillard vaguely emerge from her character, and it is toward the end when Edith is sitting on a beach in California giving an interview. The rest of the film she is wholly chameleon-like and indistinguishable from la môme.
Certainly this type of tragicomic drama with all of its poverty-stricken episodes and heart-rending tragedies is primed to elicit an emotional response, but Dahan goes the extra mile in polishing the story for audiences. It truly is a beautiful work of art, coated with sweeping tracking shots á la Paul Thomas Anderson or Martin Scorsese blended with shakycam to capture the fast, fickle pace of the business, endlessly creative intercutting of continuity and breathtaking scenes after another. When Piaf's beautiful hands have been noted, a muted performance is given in which the camera only focuses on her theatrics and hand gestures. Yet the best scene takes place in Piaf's apartment some 2/3s into the film in which she is waiting for her lover Marcel to fly in from Morocco. I shall give no spoilers. The film is momentarily gray and depressing, only to jerk the audience away from the misery and lose itself in a blossom-strewn pictorial style whenever Piaf goes on stage.
La Môme is a one-woman-show in all respects, with Cotillard shamelessly relegating every other cast member to the background with her emotional intensity. But in all fairness supporting characters are not given much screen time in the film, seemingly floating away from the central story eventually, or dying in some tragedy, illustrating the lonely life of its titular singer. La Môme needs to be seen to be believed, for it unexpectedly floors all other musical biopics of recent years or indeed ever.
9 out of 10
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