La Vie en Rose (2007)
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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
La Môme Piaf, the kid sparrow, born Édith Gassion and so re-named by Louis Leplée (Depardieu's character), emerges as in intense, suffering, passionate spirit, a believer in love and Saint Theresa (restorer of her eyesight) who exemplifies the image of the doomed artist. Things are turbulent from the start and never stop being that way. As we see the young Piaf, she's abandoned by her street-singer mother, raised in a brothel, almost goes blind, is ripped away from her surrogate mother to tour in a circus with her father and begins to sing when accompanying him as a street-performing contortionist. The crowd wants her to do something, so she sings the Marseillaise in a simple ringing voice and a star is born. But she's not out of the gutter till fashionable cabaret owner Leplée whisks her off the street and onto his stage to be discovered in turn by a composer and a radio impresario and by then she's already a heavy drinker. Drugs and tragedy accompany the growing fame in this whirlwind tale that runs in circles.
As the film shifts back and forth vertiginously between Piaf's last days (at only 47!) one sustained story is her love affair with French boxing champion Marcel Cerdan (a handsome and appealing Jean-Pierre Martins) that begins when both are in New York. This tender and sweet interlude in the maelstrom ends tragically when Cerdan dies in a plane crash heading back to New York see her. Piaf acts out her grief spectacularly before a full audience of friends, hangers-on, attendants, and handlers. Unlike the realistic sets of the early life, the New York ones are symbolic and stagy.
We see a jumble of happy moments and sad, triumphs and disgrace. Some things are omitted Piaf's actions during the Occupation; her marriage late in life to a very young Greek singer. After the plane crash took away her married boxing champion lover and she was in a car accident it's suggested she was never far from the morphine needle, but we're missing specifics of her drug addiction and its effects on her health. Apart Cerdan, there aren't many details of her loves and marriages. We flash-forward to one of many onstage collapses and a period of convalescence when the singer looks more like an old woman than a 40-year-old and moves like a stuffed mummy. That last triumphant performance at Paris' grand music hall the Olympia one of her stamping grounds in her days of fame is cancelled even by her, but then when a composer plays a new song for her, "Je ne regrette rien," she says it's her, she must rise to sing it and she's inspired to go ahead with the Olympia concert and the song what became her final anthem.
Even though Dahan has said he doesn't hold to the idea that misery is a necessary ingredient of art, his version of the Piaf story is never far from that commonplace romantic association. Cotillard brings the singer powerfully to life, but one wishes the unremittingly tumultuous film granted Piaf a few peaceful everyday moments, a quiet sit-down for a coffee and a cigarette, a dinner without being drunk.
Even though there are place names and dates flashed on screen to help us wade through the meandering chronology, the film gives no very clear sense of the shape of the life. How much did her existence change when she became an icon? Was there any sustained period when she was famous, healthy, and happy all at the same time? Did she really have affairs with Aznavour, Montand, Marlene, et al., as rumors say?
"The narrative had to be impressionist, not linear," Dahan has commented. Certainly this isn't studied, analytical film-making but, as Dahan's remarks suggests, the wildly impressionistic kind. Dahan's last film was the nightmarish Crimson Rivers II; his background is adventurous but not altogether distinguished. He's done music videos, which may help explain the editing style. That editing is such a whirlwind on her deathbed we go back to her childhood and moments or adult triumph with some remarkably cunning elisions between that when the final Olympia performance of "Je ne regrette rien" comes, we're wrung out. It is in the closing sequence leading up to this finale where the delirious editing style finally begins to make good sense, but such warped chronology doesn't sustain well over two hours and twenty minutes, and one wishes it had been used more sparingly early in the film so it would be more climactic at the end.
La Vie en Rose/La Mome may leave one with lots of questions and a few doubts, but its emotional power is supported by good sound and image. Even in its cardboard New York sequences, the film is glowing and beautiful to look at. The singing is a seamless amalgam of enhanced Piaf recordings and the spot-on work of voice imitator Jil Aigrot, with exceptionally convincing lip-synchs done by the tireless and really remarkable Marion Cotillard. Whatever you may conclude about this overwhelming, chaotic film it really doesn't want to give you time to think you're going to grant that Cotillard delivers one of the most remarkable star performances ever in a singer-biopic. This will make you weep.
Marion Cotillard as Piaf was a dream to watch... particularly when she played the older Piaf. Her pain, her loss came through exquisitely. And even the two actresses who played Piaf earlier in life were excellent. The director - Olivier Dahan - has been criticized (and rightly so) in other postings. But in the case of the 3 Piafs he has done his job well, creating the full character of the woman.
And for me the highlight was toward the end when Piaf sings NON,JE NE REGRETTE RIEN (NO REGRETS). The song written for Piaf is a summation of the film and her life. And for the first time in a VERY long time, I actually had tears on my face in a cinema.
That alone is a very high recommendation.
Just run and watch it as soon as possible! Sorry if my English isn't good enough to express all the good feelings I have for that film.
One thing about the movie that annoyed me a little was the switches of time frames. I understand the purpose of it. During the first 15 minutes we get to see the sickly little girl, then Edith Piaf's days of glory and' finally, her last days, when she was a tortured creature and looked like a 70-year old woman. So even while living through the singer's happiest days we never forget how it would end quite soon. But sometimes these switches seem unnecessary and distracting. The other flaw is that a viewer must be well-familiar with the singer's biography, otherwise it would be difficult for one to understand certain moments in the film.
I don't have much to say about the director's masterful work, honestly there is none. The director had the story of life, he had the music and the haunting voice of the great singer. The latter is what makes most of the emotional impact. But I would recommend this movie sincerely, Marion Cotillard's acting alone would make it worth watching, and there are other beautiful things in it as well. The movie never seems too long, and its last minutes are very emotional, when Edith Piaf is led to the stage, she can hardly walk, and then she starts to sing 'No regrets' and transforms completely.
I adore it. Nothing else is there to be said, really. The acting, all round, is sensational, but the lead, Marion Cotillard's portrayal of Edith Piaf, is beyond words. More astonishing even, I'd dare to say, than what Bruno Ganz did with Adolf Hitler in Der Untergang (although Ganz had only a mass murderer and historical criminal to work with, while Cotillard was dealing with, pardon me for saying, the soul of an entire nation).
I would like to comment on the script. The little symbolic moments, full of grief, full of such a profound sadness...I have never seen this done so well. Certain elements of the story, a conversation or object, are only within the lasting of the film transformed from everyday, mundane stuff into everlasting symbols of affection, of redemption and personal torment.
You see, this is the strong point of the film - it tries to(and often it manages) make you cry because of her tough life, but at the end you are crying because of the good things that happened to her. They too, are over: Edith never even regrets the bad ones.
The music is a whole story on its own. I've loved Piaf for some years now, but, alas, I don't speak French, and now, at last, I have some context to place the songs into...and it breaks me. It really does.
I saw the movie yesterday, went home, and listened to Edith's albums for hours, and they meant so much...they spoke volumes.
Anyway, the direction is perfect, although there is one scene towards the end which has problems - it tells, for the very first time, of a rather important event in the much earlier years of the singer's life , and the event in question seems to be out of place, sort of neglected - as if it should have been dealt with an hour earlier. But this is only one tiny scene, and even it, in itself, is masterfully done. Everything else is flawless.
The cuts and the singing are blended brilliantly together. I was especially struck, which is strange, by the end credits: they are very unusual and touching for a movie which is this musical (find out why!).
Anyway, my deepest recommendations. See it, it is really excellent. It is dark and human and bright, and full of spectacular music.
It is the 20th century.
I fell in love with it.
You might too.
This film is the second attempt in the last 20-odd years to tell the story of the amazing Edith Piaf. The earlier attempt was a poorly received play by British playwright Pam Gems. From what I heard it was sketchy and without depth and didn't do very well on the boards either in the UK or the USA, but the lead actress was highly praised. Now we have another attempt, this time on film, which is also panned for being sketchy and without depth but worth seeing because of an outstanding lead performance, this time by Marion Cotillard.
I agree with most of the other commentators that the script by Olivier Dahan and Isobel Sobelman (if there even was a full script) and Dahan's direction are messy and confusing, as if the director wanted to emulate the Baz Luhrman touch by creating a 10-ring circus. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that Dahan scribbled ideas on index cards, threw them up in the air and then picked them up randomly, stacked them on a table and said, "Let's shoot the film in this order." The producers of this train wreck wisely hired very talented actors, costume designers, set builders and camera people. I think the French are world-class experts in these departments. Most French period films look right, down to the lighting.
The challenge of making a film biography of Piaf is that she was so extraordinary and she lived such an eventful life during historically volatile times. How to tell it all without succumbing to the episodic TV-movie style is something that should be handed over to only the most skilled screenwriter. Dahan is not that person, His direction of individual scenes isn't so bad. It's the context in which they are presented and the confusing script that weakens the film. It is hard to tell whether the editing jumped back and forth and sideways in order to conceal the essential weakness of the material or if the zigzagging was intended from the outset, perhaps to mirror the chaos of Piaf's lifestyle. But if so, WHY? Why make bad scrambled eggs when you could have made a great omelet?
Marion Cotillard fulfills all of the demands of this role, as dictated by this diffuse script. Nothing she does is lukewarm or halfhearted. But what she is required to do is suspect. Surely Piaf was no beauty toward the end, but she certainly didn't look like a mangled crone out of Fellini's SATYRICON.
But amidst this mess I was actually moved, especially during the buildup period when she is first seen singing on the streets to an appreciative audience of passersby or the way one of her mentors strictly coaches her to be the best she can be by improving her stage posture and enunciation or her rapturous reaction to a new song played for her by composers inspired by her artistry, as if she lives for such beauty. Those scenes were going in the right direction.
It is not even so bad that certain aspects of her life are reduced to brief telegraphic scenes such as the moment when she meets Marlene Dietrich, played very well and authentically by Caroline Sihol. Too bad there couldn't have been more of this relationship in the film. I'd have happily sacrificed about half of the footage devoted to her sappy involvement with the boxer for another scene or two with Dietrich whom she knew very well for several years.
The total absence of World War Two from the story is baffling. Surely her experiences performing for prisoners of war and her work in the Resistance and her devious methods of dealing with the Nazi occupiers would have brought out fascinating elements of her character and made for rousing and suspenseful scenes. Again, this omission speaks of a randomness at the conceptual level.
The religious element is played up from beginning to end. As a little girl she devoutly prays to St. Theresa. As a grown woman she treasures the cross that she wears around her neck. When she meets certain people, like Dietrich or her boxer lover, the expression of adoration on her face is the same as that of the little girl praying to her saint. It's all effective but presented as one of many fragments unconnected to the other fragments.
By the end you are more grateful that it's over than you are to have experienced this unique performer, and that's really sad.
None of these items are mentioned in La Vie en Rose, however, which chooses instead to present an onslaught of ham-fisted melodramas, many of which are severely embellished from her life (her lover died in a plane crash on his way to a boxing match, not on his way to a clandestine meeting with her), and some of which are made up whole-cloth (she never grew up in the circus). La Vie en Rose jumps haphazardly through Piaf's life, from childhood to adulthood to the end of her life, back and forth with no rhyme or reason, and at every point in her life she is surrounded by friends and hangers-on for whom no context is given, and often not even names are given, although they're depicted as being important and influential figures in her life. Aside from a brief montage of records and newspaper clippings, no mention is made in the movie to Piaf's monumental success, and all the audience is given is a litany of her tragedies, which are significantly dulled by a lack of high points and happy moments to contrast them with.
Two other nagging points on top of what I've already mentioned; first of all, Piaf is never shown smoking in the movie, despite the fact that she was a chain smoker and it significantly changed her voice later in her career. Second, although Marion Cotillard does look quite a bit like Edith Piaf (albeit about two feet taller than Piaf's 4'8"), her acting is just not up to the challenge; she portrays an older Piaf as a senile, uncharismatic shell of a person, and portrays Piaf in her 20s as a goofy, over-the-top caricature strongly reminiscent of Nicole Sullivan's "Antonia" character from MadTV.
Edith Piaf's life was full of so many ups and downs and triumphs over hardship that a movie of it could practically write itself, and some day a truly wonderful and inspiring movie will be made of her life. La Vie en Rose, however, was certainly not it.
The answer is: Marion Cotillard. She takes the film by the scruff of the neck and transcends the inept Direction. Forget the Oscar, the Cesar, the Bafta, Golden Globe, they're going to have to CREATE a new Award for this performance. A girl I know in Paris saw this when it was released there on Valentine's Day and wrote me that 'Cotillard doesn't play Piaf, she IS Piaf'. How right she was; Cotillard is Piaf in the same way that Gloria Swanson WAS Norma Desmond, in a way that Larry Parks was NOT Jolson or Cary Grant was NOT Cole Porter or, coming nearer to home, Fanny Ardant was not QUITE Maria Callas.
The thing is I've never been much of a Piaf fan, I could take her or leave her but Cotillard makes it crystal clear just who and what Piaf WAS, a one-off, an incredible talent with a private life that sucked. One of a triumvirate if you will with Judy Garland and Billie Holiday. They had a shot at Lady Day and it was an honorable shot but light years short of what Cotillard brings to La Mome. If they ever find an actress who can BE Judy Garland as Cotillard is Edith Piaf the result will be a movie to die for. Chronology is perhaps the wrong word to describe what at times resembles one Magic Mushroom too many and anyone unfamiliar with Piaf's life will be better not attempting to negotiate the labyrinth but just wallow in Cotillard's artistry. Dahan has made some bizarre choices; he mentions Paul Meurisse (a distinguished French stage and screen actor who co-starred with Piaf in a play written by Jean Cocteau but who is virtually unknown outside France and even within it by anyone under forty) and shows Michel Emer (an equally distinguished French composer of 'pop' songs in the forties and fifties but again totally unknown today) yet omits the one person once close to Piaf who IS still remembered, Yves Montand, who appeared with her at the Moulin Rouge and the film Etoile Sans lumiere and became her lover; equally bizarrely Montand gets a mention when, towards the end of her life, she is playing the Olympia, a venue where both she AND Montand enjoyed some of their greatest triumphs; she is very frail and her entourage are listing celebrities in the audience 'Montand is here', 'Montand? I didn't know he was in France', 'He came for you, Edith'. This is meaningless unless you know that Piaf dropped Montand as a lover once his popularity equalled her own and later claimed to have 'discovered' him, both resulting in an estrangement which would give more meaning to Montand being present at Olympia. Cotillard is augmented by some fine French actors, none more distinguished than Gerard Depardieu in a cameo as Louis Leplee who heard a kid singing in the street, hired her for a cabaret he ran and christened her 'Piaf'; Jean-Paul Rouve is her father, Manu Seigner Titine, the prostitute who befriends her, Montand's step-daughter Catherine Allegret is also on hand and Slyvie Testud and Pascal Greggory shine as lifelong friend and manager. There is one masterstroke; when she plays the Olympia for the first time, she is racked by stage fright and has to be coaxed on to the stage. Dahan opens on the microphone center stage, looking out at the audience (a schtick he's overly fond of but here it's okay) Piaf walks out and stands with her back to us. The orchestra strikes up and in a Reverse angle we see her mouth opening but no sound comes out. The whole song is played mute and the effect comes from her growing confidence, the orchestra slowly building to a crescendo and the audience growing ecstatic. For a film about a singer there's not that much song; snatches of her signature songs are heard behind scenes of her childhood but seldom do we hear a song in its entirety, just enough of Milord, La Vie En Rose to whet appetites and inexplicably not one word of Hymn d'Amour. Ultimately it's Cotillard's triumph, one minute an arthritic bundle of rags the next a Radiant young woman who IS beautiful because she makes you BELIEVE she is. Magnifique.
From a depraved childhood filled with abuse and horror the scrawny but scrappy Piaf fends off a pimp, is discovered then ruined through scandal is re-discovered falls in love with a world champion fighter, becomes drug dependent and eventually gives up the ghost. You will never listen to a Piaf song in the same way again.
As Piaf, Marion Cotillard ages and suffers convincingly but she does occasionally lapse into a buffoonish wide eyed Lucy routine along the way. Her sidekick Momone is like Bresson's Mouchette reaching adulthood. You want to throw her into the Seine. The rest of the cast including Gerard Deperadieu are just well dressed and forgettable.
In addition to the film's confusing storyline director, co-writer Olivier Dahan relies on too much screaming and yelling from his actors to bring drama to his scenes. The story lags toward the end since flash forwards reveal where Piaf is headed earlier in the film. There is also an inexplicable waste of time devoted to a Marcel Cerdan fight which is given too much weight to the biography. Of course there is the music but you can save yourself a lot of time by buying the CD taking her biography out of the library, sit home and sip a good red. This film will only make you see red.
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.
It's hard to believe Edith didn't have one happy moment during her days as either a kid or a young adult. After 45 minutes of non-stop sadness, the film was laying it pretty thick. The best example of this was when Edith and her friend were eating at a restaurant. It was the first time we saw Edith eating a meal in a restaurant as a young woman. Just showing her enjoying her meal and chatting with her friend would have been fun to see but then Edith's estranged mother walks in, begging for food and money from her daughter and well, here we go again, more melodrama. The film needed more quiet moments to balance out Edith's albeit tragic life. The constant melo was at times off putting. Edith's life is remarkable enough without having to rely on easy melodrama to tell it. The end effect was like the director wanted to impress younger generations, who are unfamiliar with Edith, by showing her life as being more edgy than Courtney Love's life could ever be.
At the theater where I saw it, an old couple in front of me walked out halfway into the picture, visibly not pleased with the bleak representation of the beloved chanteuse. The director was obviously in love with the concept that great art emerges from tragedy/pain/suffering but he carried this concept to an unfortunate level.
My other critique of LA VIE EN ROSE is that the script forgot major aspects about her life. Of course they couldn't cover every aspect of her legendary life but forgetting to mention that Edith was the one who discovered Yves Montand or that she played a major part of the French Resistance was inexcusable. I understand that they wanted to create a specific portrait of her life. Making a biography is not easy thing to do. It can easily fall into two categories: it can be an exact "academic" portrayal of her life, which many find tedious and dull or it could have been a wildly inaccurate portrayal, made with many dramatic licenses, in order to be more entertaining. But in either case, an accurate, truthful portrayal of anyone's life is an impossibility and the director of LA VIE EN ROSE is conscious of this and deliberately avoided some things about Edith which would have conflicted with this portrait he wanted to create but the fact that Yves Montand didn't even figure somewhere in this portrait was, imo, very bizarre.
This brings another point: the film is so focused on Edith that all other characters are pushed in the background and we hardly know who they are. Edith's star is so bright that she eclipses everyone around her. This part didn't bother me that much because I realized the director wanted to focus only on Edith but it would have been nice to have known who was who.
But even with these weak points, I still recommend LA VIE EN ROSE. It's the type of film we rarely see these days: big, showy and remarkably depressing. Marion Cotillard should win awards after awards for her stunning portrayal. It's truly something to witness and it's worth the price of admission. And the music, of course, is great.
This movie? Goes to the other extreme. We are whipsawed back and forth all over the main character's life, increasingly as the runtime progresses -- doing little to advance our understanding or sympathy for the character. In fact, it seems specifically concocted to try and make the story more incomprehensible or simply to obscure the fact that the makers of this movie couldn't stand to try and tie together the thread of Edith Piaf's life, preferring to serve up a mishmash of melodramatically tragic vignettes.
In particular, as has been mentioned, I'm not sure that revealing the death of the main character's daughter only near the end accomplishes much, or anything. It's not a "big reveal" or unlocks anything that we've seen all film; it seems cheap that such a particular tragedy would be deliberately hidden until near the end, and then treated as a throwaway reference. But then... characters who aren't Edith Piaf are largely treated as throwaway, popping in and out of disjointed scenes seemingly at random.
There are some who might turn up their nose at linear storytelling because it is somehow too simple to lay out the line of someone's life, and forces you to make sense of the presence of others in that person's life. Using flashbacks, nonlinear disjointed scenes would require *more* skill, not less, to portray facts of the main character's personality more effectively -- a skill that is sadly, even wholly, lacking in this film.
Edith Piaf (1915-1963), born Edith Giovanna Gassion to a former café singer and a street acrobat. Abandoned by her parents, she lived for a time in a brothel run by her paternal grandmother. From three to seven years old, she allegedly went blind as a result of meningitis, but later recovered her sight after going on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Therese. At 14 she joined her father in street performances, during which she sang in public for the first time.
She later went her own way as a street singer along with her half-sister Simone Berteaut (nicknamed Momone). In 1935 she was discovered by nightclub owner Louis Leplee, who gave her the nickname La Mome Piaf (the little sparrow). Her career was momentarily derailed after Leplee was murdered, allegedly by gangsters she had previous ties with. To save her career, she turned to Raymond Asso, who gave her the stage name Edith Piaf and commissioned Marguerite Monnot to write songs for her. Monnot became a life-long friend and collaborator.
During this period she rose to prominence as one of France's most popular entertainer and toured all over the world. However, she initially met with little success in the US until a glowing review by a prominent New York critic launched her to fame in America. Her greatest performances were at the Paris Olympia concert hall, the most famous venue in Paris.
The great love of her life was the heavyweight world champion Marcel Cerdan, who was a legend in France in his own right. After a car crash in 1951, she became addicted to morphine and alcohol, two addictions she could never shake for the remaining years of her life. She died at 47 of liver cancer. Did you get that? Good, because unless you're from France, you'll need all the above information to make heads or tails of La Môme (aka La Vie en Rose), a movie about the life of Edith Piaf. The film pingpongs in a roughly chronological fashion from her early years to her later years with little narrative logic or thematic sense. One problem I have with the film is that it assumes that you already know all about Piaf's life and are watching the film simply to see recreations of key moments in her life a sort of greatest hits if you will. Or maybe a Behind the Music special. Watching La Môme, you would never understand what made Edith Piaf a French icon.
Which leads to my major problem with the film: the filmmakers seem determined to present Edith Piaf in the most unflattering light possible. Quite apart from her extraordinary voice, what you would learn about her from La Môme is that she is: an alcoholic and a junkie, a spoiled, arrogant diva, and a home-wrecker. She was also, unfortunately, quite ugly, a fact that Piaf herself readily acknowledges in the film. By the time she was in her forties, the film portrays her as looking easily twenty years older, with a ravaged face and an old woman's stoop. Did the woman have no redeeming qualities whatsoever?
Marion Cotillard really deserves some kind of an award for not downplaying the ugly qualities of this supremely unpleasant figure. Unfortunately, the filmmakers also seem determined to cut anything resembling a performance from this film. Quite apart from the physical impersonation, there is nothing to Cotillard's performance that would tell you anything about Piaf's character.
The best parts of the film are those involving Piaf's early life, which have all the fascination of a Dickens novel. But once Cotillard takes over as the adult Piaf, watch out, the film starts to make little sense. There are even some puzzling artistic choices, such as the decision to play a key concert scene without vocals, backed only by the score. Even worse, the scene is further reduced to a series of quick close-ups of Piaf's lips and hands, inter-cut with shots of the audience reaction.
If you have to watch the film, make sure you read up on Piaf first before you go. Oh, and enjoy the songs, which are mainly actual recordings of Piaf herself. They're really the only reason to watch La Môme.
Title (Brazil): "Piaf – Um Hino ao Amor" ("Paif – A Hymn to Love")
The other fault was that the subtitling did not include a translation of her songs. As Piaf died over 40 years ago, she is not known to many people under the age of 60, and even they don't all speak French. If you are going to have subtitles for the dialogue, there should also be a translation of the songs, which were very much a part of her story, especially the final ending where she sang "je ne regrette rien" - I have no regrets! This was akin to making a foreign language film about Vera Lynn, without letting the audience know the words of her immortal inspiring songs of WWII.
Go rent this movie right now, it deserves being watched.
However, the issues I had with the movie were threefold: 1. Just about everybody in her life, as portrayed by the movie, seem to have her best interest at heart; everyone from the small town prostitutes to the managers and servants who nursed her at the end. Which begs the question: if everyone in Edith Piaf's life showed her such kindness, why did she end up such a mess? Marcel Cerdan, the love of her life, was portrayed as a heart throb with only love and patience in his soul. My recollection (and this was passed down to me by my parents) was that theirs was a tumultuous relationship. If that's the case, why not give it the honest portrayal it deserved? In the constellation of her life, there had to be devils, the ones that abused, manipulated and violated her trust, driving her to the edge of insanity and addiction. That would have been drama.
2. I realized early on in the movie that the director had to have made the assumption that anyone watching was well aware on who these people were. Consequently, characters would drop in and out like so many distant relatives who had no need for introduction.
3. I like the time shifts one finds in such classics like "Citizen Kane." It fleshes out the story so that by the end we have traveled the path of life with the heroine. But we have to remain anchored in the present so that we always have a feel as to where we are in the story line. In this movie, there may have been a bit too much movement away from the core, and not necessarily coming back to the same point. By the end, I couldn't tell if she was in Paris, New York, on her death bed or getting ready for her last concert.
It is a movie worth seeing. For anyone who knows little about Piaf, it will give them a feel for this french icon, second only to the Eiffel Tower and Napoleon. But she lived a tragic life; this movie only makes it seem sad.