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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
Before getting to the review of this astonishing film, let me tell you about how I came to see it. On my way back to the UK from Indiana last week I had a seven hour layover in Newark. I don't much enjoy hanging around airports for hours, so I took the 30 minute train ride into Manhattan. Wandering up the road from Maddison Square Gardens I heard a smart-suited African speaking French into his 'cellulaire'. Wondering if he was from Côte d'Ivoire where we used to live, I followed him through a shop doorway. As my eyes adjusted to the rather greasy gloom, I noted that I had entered a little Caribbean bakery/restaurant full of black faces. I suppressed the desire to make a quick exit and joined him at the back of the queue at the counter. He turned out to be Senegalese rather than Ivorian, but was very pleased to have another chance to talk French...
After a very tasty $7 lunch of 'stew chicken with rice & beans' and a portion of fried plantains, I headed on up 8th Avenue. A few blocks further on I came to a cinema and decided that it would be great to see a 'movie' on a real big screen rather than the way I see most films these days through the distinctly low-def screen built into the back of the airline seat in front of me.
I was just in time to buy tickets for La Vie en Rose which was starting right away. Entering the big 'movie theater' I was shocked that at four on a Wednesday afternoon the place was packed solid. As my eyes adjusted and hunted for an empty seat I observed that I was once again the stranger - almost everyone there appeared to be over sixty. Perhaps it was the cheap day for seniors or the fact that La Vie en Rose had only opened a few days earlier but the film definitely merits a large audience.
Perhaps you are put off by foreign language films with subtitles, but to have dubbed this from French would have been a crime. It is a biopic of the life of Edith Piaf whose theme song was La Vie en Rose - literally 'Life in Pink' or more idiomatically 'The Rose-tinted Life'. Edith Piaf's gravelly voice and melodramatic life is superbly portrayed by Marion Cotillard as the film works its way through her life to the accompaniment of her distinctive songs. Of course, as in all French films which make it to the anglophone world, there is a role for THE French Actor as we often refer to Gerard Depardieu; he is the impresario who literally discovers 'the Little Sparrow' singing in the back-streets of Montmartre.
It was quite a puzzle to place each scene in chronological order as the film jumps around through more flashbacks and flash forwards than an entire season of Lost. Apart from that though, La Vie en Rose is an absolute triumph, rich with the colours of Piaf's tragic life. The entire audience stuffed damp handkerchiefs into their pockets, rose to their feet and applauded this guaranteed Oscar winner. Piaf finished her career singing a song which she felt summed up her life - "Non je ne regrette rien!" Take your friends to see this classic film and you'll have no regrets either.
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