A Great Performance in an Unconventional Biopic
Actress Marion Cotillard gives a powerful performance in La Vie en Rose (2007), a French-language biopic about iconic singer Édith Piaf (1915-1963). Cotillard plays Piaf as she goes from 20-year-old waif street singer to internationally famous diva to 47-year-old terminally ill invalid. The celebrated chanteuse is portrayed as having such a difficult personality that most of us wouldn't want to spend much time around her in real life, but Cotillard still manages to make her character sympathetic.
La Vie en Rose seems to be one of those polarizing movies: viewers tend to either like it a lot or not be able to connect with it at all. A major complaint has been that the narrative is hard to follow because events from several different periods of Piaf's life are interleaved. But this organization is fitting if we see the film as emerging from Piaf's mind as she lies on her deathbed, looking back at the chaotic life she has led.
This is a movie about emotions rather than facts and logic. The filmmakers make no attempt at straightforward storytelling — what's important here is the progression of visual images and soundtrack music. Songs heard in the movie include "La Vie en rose," "Milord," "Hymne à l'amour" and "Non, je ne regrette rien."
A Story Rich in Incident
Piaf was married twice, but both husbands figure in the film only marginally. They weren't nearly as meaningful to her as was professional boxer Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins), who, according to the movie, was the love of her life. The film shows their courtship and her cheering as he wins the world middleweight title. He was married, but the movie makes it look like a beautiful affair.
A pair of child actresses play Édith as a girl, one at age five, the other at age 10. In the film, her mother deserts her, and Édith is helping her father do his street contortionist act when she discovers people will pay to hear her sing. She lives in a brothel for a while, and when she goes blind, the prostitutes take her to the shrine of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, not long after which she regains her sight.
As the film makes clear, Piaf suffered from a series of health problems. She was sickly as a child, grew up to booze excessively, developed crippling rheumatoid arthritis, became addicted to morphine, was badly injured in an auto accident, and finally succumbed to liver cancer. She was only 47 when she died, but in the movie Cotillard's Piaf ends up looking 30 years older.
However, the movie makes it seem Piaf found satisfaction in her work. The film opens in New York in 1959 with her collapsing onstage, and after that her health gets so wretched it looks like her performing days are over. But when a composer brings her a new song, "Non, je ne regrette rien," she rallies. The film closes with her singing it for an enthusiastic crowd at the legendary Olympia concert hall in Paris.
The Only DVD Extra Is a Short Featurette
A featurette that is a little over seven minutes long is the only bonus material on the La Vie en Rose DVD. But this gives us a chance to see the lovely Marion Cotillard out of character and hear her talk about how she prepared to play Édith Piaf. There's also a little discussion of the makeup that was so effective in the scenes where Piaf was in her forties, but looked so much older.
In addition, the featurette permits us to see and hear from director Olivier Dahan. He says, "What I'm trying to do in this film is to see how someone so fragile, and someone who was abandoned several times as a child, can overcome all that and become strong."
Below I have listed the details for the DVD containing La Vie en Rose.
Release Date: November 13, 2007
Feature Film Run Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Substance Abuse, Sexual Content, Brief Nudity, Language and Thematic Elements
Widescreen (2.35:1), Color
French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Stepping Into Character (7 minutes)