Friday, June 08, 2007

La Vie En Rose

Written by: Olivier Dahan

Directed by: Olivier Dahan

Starring: Marion Cotillard
Gerard Depardieu
Sylvie Testud
Isabelle Sobelman

My Rating: 4/5

To tell somebody’s life story in one movie is like trying to condense the Bible into a pop-up book. This is something that filmmakers realised a long, long time ago. Because of this, the only way to make a biopic is to pick out the main events and adapt an episodic structure. With La Vie En Rose, the biopic of masterful French singer Edith Piaf, the director takes a slightly different route. He keeps to the episodic structure but truncates the narrative so that there are several periods of her life being told randomly throughout. Although original, and cleverly interwoven, this narrative style cheapened and detracted from the emotion of an otherwise beautiful, unbearably sad story.

The film tells the story from Edith’s early days on the streets, to the part of her childhood spent in a brothel, blinded by an inflammation of the eyes, to her days in the circus with her father, to her incredible rise from poverty to all the heights and glories of international acclaim. Although full of character and sparkling charisma, Edith was a troubled, hardened woman, having led an awful life of fear, poverty and instability. Her later years were spent as an incurable substance addict and her body became frail and elderly by the time she died at the age of 47.

The music in the film is used beautifully and highlights the natural talent of Edith Piaf. The film emphasises her lack of training and discipline and her ability to perform onstage no matter what emotional or physical condition she was in is. The songs are beautiful, the orchestration is beautiful and the deep soulful melancholy of the music is perfectly fitting with the story of her life.

The central performances are all very strong but Marion Cotillard’s portrayal of Edith Piaf may be one of the most stunning female performances of our time. She plays the physical fragility brilliantly and the emotional fragility even better. She sparkles in every scene, allowing the audience to compare the vivacious sensation that was Edith Piaf to the shrivelled shadow she became. Unfortunately, this film is in French with English subtitles so any hope that this film will be rewarded as Johnny Cash’s biopic Walk the Line was at the Oscars is doubtful. If there is any justice in the world, audiences will flock to see Cotillard’s performance and to see the story of one of the 20th century’s most gifted artists.

The film celebrates Edith Piaf’s gift without painting her as a saint. Her life was bitterly sad and not at all uplifting but the music, the story and the frankly astonishing lead performance is certainly worth the price of a ticket. While it doesn’t necessarily stand out among other biopics, it is as deserving of our attention as any other and successfully gives us an overall feel for the woman whose voice soared even when her heart was in the gutter.

- Charlene Lydon

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