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The great Edith Piaf, shaken, defeated, and haunted...
hughman5523 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This is not a great film. However, it is WELL worth your time to watch it. It has some script problems. But the casting, and performance, of Edith Piaf is mesmerizing. She is filmed beautifully in a fragile and tragic sort of way. Yves Montand makes his film debut here. So we get to see the early stage of his career with all of his natural, and ample, charisma before Hollywood got their claws in him and slowing ground it out of him. I don't speak French so I had to read the English subtitles, some of which I feel certain were conjugated incorrectly. Especially at the end. That notwithstanding, and even with the many anachronistic contradictions in the set design and costuming, the thrust of this story is compelling and watchable.

The treasure of this mixed success is, of course, the voice of Edith Piaf. It is teased gently in the first half of the film when we only hear her singing to herself as she performs maid service in the small town hotel she works in. And again later, in a muted, grainy, tone, through the earphones of a sound engineer on the set of a movie she has been hired to dub. He can't believe what he's hearing. But we don't get to hear it for ourselves, yet. But then finally we do hear/experience her amazing voice, in it's full, sonorous, texture (once) in that same "movie within a movie". Then again at a concert rehearsal where she demonstrates why she became an icon with a rendition of a love story gone wrong and a decent into madness.

The finale of the film is an eerie foreshadowing of the short tragic life Piaf would live. We are left with an unshakable image of her hiding beneath the stairwell of the music hall after a disastrous debut, shaken, defeated, and haunted. No one could have done this better than her. Even without signing a note.

I didn't personally like the songs chosen for her in this film. And if you're looking to re-live "La Vie en Rose" in black and white, move on. This won't do it for you. But if you are interested in a very good performance, created around the voluminous talent of Edith Piaf, you will not be disappointed. Warts and all, I recommend this film! It gets a 10 from me for the unexpectedly brilliant performance by Piaf.
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Singing in the pain.
dbdumonteil26 June 2003
In this movie, the great French chanteuse Edith Piaf portrays a maid who's only happy when she sings sad songs,songs about pain..

It 's the end of the silent era .A star on the decline,Stella Dora,desperately tries to make her way in the talkies.Her manager and lover discovers Madeleine the maid and decides to use her voice.She will be Stella Dora's voice on the screen.Well you get the picture,it predates "singing in the rain " .

However,Marcel Blistène's movie is eminently worthy of investigation because:

-We can hear Piaf sing several songs written by her best songwriter Marguerite Monnot ."La chanson des pirates" is particularly exciting,and the final cut,sung on the stage of the music hall,which ends with haunting bells is thoroughly enthralling

-It's a cruel depiction of the showbiz without any indulgence:relatively speaking,outside Gene Kelly's musical,it predates some aspects of "all about Eve" (1950)

-The cast gathers some of the best actors of that era:Serge Reggiani,Jules Berry,Marcel Herrand,Yves Montand (debut):at the time ,the latter was Piaf's great love.

-And "étoile sans lumière" (star without light) ,what a well-chosen title!
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Piaf and Yves Montand
AmoNYC13 October 2011
Could Hollywood's famous movie musical "Singin' in the Rain" be imitating this French film -only 6 years later? I think so! Watching "Étoile Sans Lumière" was delightful and here we get to experience, not only Édith Piaf's image, but her magical singing, as well. She was barely 30, while making this movie. One hour into this film, Yves Montand shows up, making his movie debut... and this viewer had the privilege of seeing him shirtless. Here we have 2 pop legends that transcended time, cultures and languages. I was in Paris earlier this month, having coffee at an outdoor café, when a lady came to our table and sang "La Vie En Rose" with such soul, and in the style of Piaf. People are still imitating & honoring this magnificent talent -a half century after her passing. Few entertainers endure this long. I'm grateful that we have the opportunity to see such an incredible vocal talent, from years gone by, still performing in the moving image today. Piaf was in only 8 movies. So, this one is a rare treasure indeed! There are, however, countless films where Piaf's vocals continue to be featured to this day. Merci, Mademoiselle Piaf (RIP).
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6/10
Yves Montand Saves the Play!
JohnHowardReid27 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
SYNOPSIS: Supposedly set in 1930 when silents were transitioning into talkies, Édith Piaf plays a household drudge who discontentedly dubs the singing voice of a big-time movie star. But when she is finally given her big chance to step into the limelight…

COMMENT: The chief problem with this film is its unwieldy cast. In order to accommodate Jules Berry, Serge Reggiani, Mila Parély, Yves Montand and Marcel Herrand, the screenplay has been unmercifully padded out with unnecessarily long speeches for everyone (particularly Jules Berry, Serge Reggiani and Marcel Herrand). Reggiani is even given an extremely long and totally superfluous scene with Georges Vitray. True, thanks to Vitray it does have an occasional spark, but we get tired of looking at the back of his head while he's sounding off, so that the camera can fill the screen with Reggiani's face instead. It's not a handsome or interesting face anyway!

The only players who emerge with unqualified merit from this talk-fest are Yves Montand and Mila Parély. Miss Parély is not only beautiful but thoroughly convincing. One the other hand, Montand (who is making his movie debut here) doesn't need to be convincing. He is intrinsically charismatic and doesn't require screen-hogging, marking-time speeches. Unfortunately, he doesn't sing. All the songs are left to Edith Piaf. Personally, I don't think she was well served by Étoile sans lumière. Her voice is not well recorded and comes across with a displeasingly gritty, grating quality in addition to its natural throaty timbre.

Maybe, I'm picky, but in addition to the multitude of mile-long speeches infesting this movie, I have another gripe. As you see from the synopsis, it's supposed to be set in 1930 when musicals were all the rage and silent stars (such as portrayed here by the lovely Mila) were making the transition to sound, and musicals were often dubbed with real singers (a practice that continued right through to 1964's My Fair Lady and maybe beyond). The problem is that after an initial cinema scene soon after the credits, absolutely no attempt is made to have the movie look like it is set in 1930. Sets and costumes all reflect the fashions of 1946. I kept forgetting we were in 1930 and at least four or five times, I was caught out by odd references and peculiar plot developments until I realized that despite all the 1946 fashions on display, we were supposedly back in the flapper era.
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7/10
Sparrer In The Works
writers_reign25 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Far be it from me to cast aspersions at Comden and Green but they surely saw this movie before ripping it off in Singin' In The Rain. Be that as it may what we have here is an interesting idea ('silent' stars unable or unwilling to adapt to 'sound) that is more or less discarded rather than being exploited. The casting is unusual whichever way you look at it. Clearly a vehicle for Piaf who had signed a contract to make it before re- opening the Moulin Rouge as a Music Hall with Yves Montand 'opening' for her and becoming her lover; on the strength of this Piaf insisted a role be found for Montand and had that been that it would have been great because the chemistry was there and they would probably have allowed Montand to sing. As it was they had also to accommodate Serge Reggiani - he would go on to appear with Montand's wife, Simone Signoret, memorably in Casque d'Or - and Jules Berry, two different styles of acting. It is this casting that fascinates today but at the time the clash of style must have been heard in the Auvergne. Certainly worth a look
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6/10
The talkies
jotix10025 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The end of the silent era in movies signal the demise for many of the stars that could not adapt to the new medium. Either they had not mastered the technique required for the 'talkies', or they had terrible speaking voices, or their way of emoting got in the way for many to make the transition.

We find Stella Dora at a provincial movie theater where her last silent film is being shown. She is desperate knowing her movie career is over. Her lover, Roger Marney, thinks she will get back if she gets the right vehicle in which to make a come back. The opportunity comes in the form of Madeleine, the maid in the place where the couple is staying. She sings all the time, something that gets on Stella's nerves.

Roger sees the perfect opportunity for Stella to shine. Why not use Madeleine's singing voice in some production that will require it. He sells the idea and the film becomes a great success, not only for her acting, but for Stella's fine voice. Only a few are in on the secret, among them, Gaston, a sound engineer that has mastered the playback to be incorporated to the new way to make pictures.

Madeleine becomes disillusioned when trying to make it on her own. She is tied to Roger Mornay, by a contract and by a kind of loyalty, but she could not care for Stella Dora who treats her as though she were a worm. When Stella dies in a car accident, Billy, a sort of impresario, decides to make Madeleine a star, but the ghost of Stella makes it impossible. Her noble boyfriend, Pierre, who has loved her always, is there at the end to come to help her, after everyone deserts her.

Obviously a vehicle for Edith Piaf, this French film directed and co- written by Marcel Blistine, reminds some contributors of Stanley Donen's "Singin' in the Rain", which came a decade later. There is no question the American take on basically the same subject was much better because of the elements that went into its making. The French film is a melodrama that suffers perhaps by the star's awkwardness in front of the camera. After all Edith Piaf was a singer whose milieu did not include a movie set. She was electrifying seen in person because the way she was able to say a song in her inimitable way.

The production includes well established actors like Serge Reggiani, Marcel Herrand, Jules Berry, Mila Parely and others. See it as a piece of curious nostalgia even though Ms. Piaf singing is heard in the background, more than sung to the audience.
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