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Vie En Rose, La (2007)
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by Elaine Perrone

"La Vie en Capsule."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 33RD ANNUAL SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, JUNE 2007. As a showcase for Marion Cotillard (A Good Year, A Very Long Engagement), whose portrayal of legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf is never less than dazzling, La Vie en rose is a triumph. As a tribute to Piaf herself, who died in 1963 at the age of 47 but who remains to this day an icon in her native country, the film is merely a capsule of her eventful life – a series of snapshots that give little inkling of what has earned her the status of National Treasure.

In the end, writer-director Olivier Dahan’s script boils down to a fairly standard-issue musical biopic (albeit one with glorious music): Born in the slums of Belleville in 1915 to street performers, Édith Giovanna Gassion spent much of her childhood in a Normandy brothel run by her paternal grandmother. At age three, she went suddenly blind but was saved four years later by a “miracle” from Saint Thérèse de Lisieux, who became her lifelong patron. Striking out on her own, singing on the streets of Pigalle and drinking away the proceeds with her friend and partner Mômone, she was discovered in 1935, at the age of 20, by nightclub owner Louis Leplée, who christened her with the nickname La Môme (The Kid), and later La Môme Piaf (The Little Sparrow), as much for her petite stature (4 feet 8 inches) as for her powerful voice. When Leplée was murdered in 1936, Piaf was suspected of being complicit but was eventually acquitted. Surviving that scandal, Edith made the acquaintance of music impresario Raymond Asso and composer Marguerite Monnot and, under their tutelage, took the musical stage by storm at the age of 23. Fast-forwarding to 1947 New York, Edith met the man who would become the great love of her life, middle-weight boxer Marcel Cerdan, with whom she had an affair until his death in 1949. Things start getting a little muddled in the 1950s, due to Dahan’s non-linear script in which the chronology of events isn’t always entirely clear, but we learn that Piaf went on to marry twice, was involved in an auto accident that left her with a morphine addiction that plagued her for the rest of her life, and achieved lasting fame through a series of concerts performed on the stage of the Paris Olympia, and a landmark appearance at Carnegie Hall.

Barely receiving mention in Dahan’s script is the birth of Édith’s daughter Marcelle when she was 16, and the baby’s tragic death of meningitis two years later. Also barely mentioned are playwright-director Jean Cocteau, singer Charles Aznavour, and actor-singer Marlene Dietrich, with whom Piaf enjoyed great friendships – although “Dietrich” (Caroline Silhol) does appear in one brief scene in which the two women meet; Yves Montand, with whom she had a famous love affair (before Cerdan) and whom she mentored to his own great fame; and her second and third husbands, Jacques Pills (1952-56) and Theo “Sarapo” Lamboukis (1961-63).

Touched on not at all are Piaf’s first marriage (1940-42) to French actor Paul Meurisse, with whom she starred in a play written expressly for the two of them by Cocteau, or her affairs with songwriter Henri Contet, American singer-actor Eddie Constantine, and singer-songwriter Georges Moustaki.

Most importantly omitted – and what really sets Piaf apart as being a hero and not just a French version of Judy Garland or Billie Holiday – was her involvement in the French Resistance: Singing in a German nightclub, Piaf was allowed to pose for photos with French prisoners of war, purportedly to boost morale. After passing along the photos to underground workers, who turned them into counterfeit passports, Piaf in turn smuggled the passports to the Frenchmen, many of whom managed to escape and became indebted to her for their lives. When Piaf died, on October 11, 1963 – the same day as her beloved friend Jean Cocteau – over forty thousand fans attended her funeral, and hundreds of thousands jammed the streets, bringing Paris traffic to a halt.

Despite Dahan’s sketchy script, La vie en rose is visually and aurally a knockout. Cotillard, who was slated by Dahan from the beginning to portray Piaf, rewards her director – and her audience – with a transcendent performance. Her physical transformation into the character of Edith Piaf is truly astonishing, an Oscar-worthy turn enhanced by her perfect lip-synching to the glorious archival recordings of Piaf herself. Likewise, her supporting castmates are terrific, with notable performances by Sylvie Testud (Mômone), Gérard Depardieu (Louis Leplée), Emmanuelle Seigneur (Titine, a prostitute who becomes the child Édith’s surrogate mother), and the staggeringly handsome Jean Pierre Martins (Marcel Cerdan).

Well worth a look for Cotillard’s magnificent performance alone, La Vie en rose just as strongly urges a companion reading of Edith Piaf’s incredible biography.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15969&reviewer=376
originally posted: 06/23/07 14:05:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2007 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2007 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/15/09 g. meh 2 stars
1/29/08 Phil M. Aficionado A 3-4 star film with a 5+ star lead role. Coulda been longer to tell Piaf's WHOLE story. 5 stars
10/23/07 William Goss Cotillard is great, and so are the tunes, but an undeniable downer and generic biopic. 3 stars
9/07/07 Juan Best Movie Of The Year! 5 stars
9/01/07 mara Best Actress for sure for this year. Outrageously amazing performance! 5 stars
8/30/07 Alex Hosking Oscar winning performance by Marion Cotillard. Don't miss it. 5 stars
8/10/07 bungalowgal The best film I have seen in a very long time 5 stars
8/02/07 Ole Man Bourbon Cotillard's Piaf is reminiscent of Dunnaway's Joan Crawford. Maybe it was just the 'brows. 4 stars
7/16/07 David Devonis Marvelous film. Transcends itself. 5 stars
6/25/07 jonniemike great movie 5 stars
6/21/07 Heather Marion Cotillard is amazing performing as Edith Piaf 5 stars
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  08-Jun-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 13-Nov-2007



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