Cast: Marion Cotillard (Edith Piaf), Gerard Depardieu (Louis Leplee), Sylvie Testud (Momone)
Writers: Isabelle Sobelman & Olivier Dahan
Director: Olivier Dahan
Edith Piaf, the famed French singer whose fans called the “Soul of Paris”, seemed at odds with life from the moment she was born. Cast aside by a mother who dreamed of a career as a performer, Edith would follow her footsteps almost subconsciously, singing for money at first, and later for salvation. Her childhood was spent in a brothel, a circus, and the streets of Paris. It was a hard life, marked by the occasional tragedy, but also a unique life, picturesque and unpredictable, the life of an artist.
The innocent girl was soon a weary-eyed street performer whose luck turned, if only briefly, when a man introduced her to the stage of the fancy Parisian bar he owned.
The film, La Vie en Rose, digs deep, revealing the young, the sick and the glamorous Edith Piaf with equal honesty. All along, she never ceased to be the innocent and insecure girl with big dreams. Singing was not exactly her passion, but all she knew how to do. It was the only thing that separated her from the streets and from everyone else. It was, for most of her life, all she had, the only escape.
The film captures the despair she felt when her body began to quit, and her voice, her only miraculous gift, grew dimmer. Her final performances were remarkable in their effort, displaying the immense will of a woman who refused to give up despite debilitating arthritis, alcohol and drug addiction, depression and liver cancer.
La Vie en Rose barely looks away from Edith, played to perfection by Marion Cotillard. The director, Olivier Dahan, probably knew what he had created as soon as he started filming and hands the film to his star, letting Marion carry it from beginning to end. Ms. Cotillard’s physical and emotional transformation was so complete it is hard to separate the actress from the songstress. From her pose, to the way she speaks, to her mannerisms and personality, Marion becomes someone else entirely, not the real Edith, but the Edith the film needed her to be.
The film jumps back and forth, contrasting the frailty of her late years, with the tragedy of her early years. Though it gets a bit messy at times, the film does well in choosing to reveal her unfortunate last days so that we can place our focus not on the resolution of her journey, but on the emotional side of the tale. Edith is shown as a martyr of sorts, a woman with exceptional talent who never seemed capable to find stability and happiness.
La Vie en Rose is one of the most accomplished biopics out there, driven by a spectacular lead performance. It is a harrowing story that boasts a wonderful soundtrack and impeccable set and costume designs that evoke the glamour of the New York and Paris of the 1950’s, as well as the abject poverty of the French slums at the beginning of the 20th century.
Despite all of the tragedy that is presented in the film, Olivier Dahan accomplishes the feat of making Piaf more than a tragic figure we pity. Ultimately, she becomes a beacon of hope and perseverance; a woman whose search for happiness and love never ceased, even when she was barely able to walk.
Rating: 4/5 (very good)