La vie en rose

La Vie en Rose (France/UK/Czech Republic 2007)

Director: Olivier Dahan

Original Title: La Môme

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This epic biopic of legendary French singer Edith Piaf has an appeal well beyond the normal limitations of foreign language cinema. Marion Cotillard rises above her colleagues to deliver a performance which will be difficult to surpass regardless of wherever her future career may lead. Lasting over two hours, Dahan’s portrayal of both the poverty of Piaf’s early life and her tempestuous and self-destructive behavior when older ensures no shortage of drama throughout the film. The story begins with Piaf as a small child, then still Édith Giovanna Gassion (Manon Chevallier as the five-year-old Edith), growing up as a bemused onlooker in her grandmother’s (Catherine Allégret) Normandy brothel. From her childhood keratitis which nearly cost Piaf her sight, through her contortionist father’s morphine addiction, the hardships that shaped Piaf’s attitude to her life and music are put on open display.

No one should take this as a factually accurate portrayal of Piaf’s life. Several things are blurred or diminished, such as her death being from cancer as opposed to her lifestyle and a series of automobile accidents. Cotillard by her own admission did not attempt to mimic Piaf and her performance is better for this. Some viewers may find the frequent change of year irritating, and indeed it does hop from her childhood to her adulthood to her last days and back again. Makeup artist Didier Lavergne does a fabulous job making Cotillard resemble a 45-year-old who looks two decades older due to her health. Another critic confessed to being originally under the impression that two actresses had portrayed Piaf at each of those two periods of her life. Cotillard herself takes more credit for her physical portrayal of the rheumatism and frailty which bedeviled Piaf’s later life.

Almost all the songs ("Heaven Have Mercy", "Milord", "La foule", "Cri du cœur", "La vie en rose", "Padam Padam", "Mon Dieu", "Hymne à l’amour", "Mon manège à moi", and the classic "Non, je ne regrette rien") are Piaf’s herself, with "Parigote" singer Jil Aigrot performing another four ("Mon Homme", "Les Mômes de la Cloche", "Mon Légionnaire", "Les Hiboux"). Digitally remasterd, they remain as powerful today as they were in her day. One notable exception is of course La Marseillaise. La Vie en Rose joins those other classic films Casablanca, Napoléon, Escape to Victory, and Jean Renoir’s superb La Grande Illusion in their use of an emotive rendering of France’s National anthem. In La Vie en Rose, it is performed by the young singer Cassandre Berger.

Though many of the themes of tragic death, illness, a cruel childhood and the self-destructive streak that seem to be prerequisites for any biopic have been done before, and the plot and dialogue are sometimes weak, Cotillard’s performance makes this a film worth treasuring.

Marion Cotillard: Edith Piaf

Sylvie Testud: Mômone

Pascal Greggory: Louis Barrier

Emmanuelle Seigner: Titine

Jean-Paul Rouve: Louis Gassion

Gérard Depardieu: Louis Leplée

Clotilde Courau: Anetta

Jean-Pierre Martins: Marcel Cerdan

Catherine Allégret: Louise

Marc Barbé: Raymond Asso

Caroline Sihol: Marlene Dietrich (as Caroline Silhol)

Manon Chevallier: Edith - 5 years old

Pauline Burlet: Edith - 10 years old

Elisabeth Commelin: Danielle Bonel

Marc Gannot: Marc Bonel

Published on 17/03/2008

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