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Vie En Rose, La (2007)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Sparrow Is Here!"
4 stars

Unless you are one of those obsessive types who makes it a point to be on top of every aspect of the world of contemporary film–and I presume that you must be or you probably wouldn’t be reading this in the first place–it is unlikely that the name of French actress Marion Cotillard is one that is familiar with you. In her native country, she has been a familiar screen presence for the last few years, most notably in such films as the unspeakable “Amelie” knock-off “Love Me If You Dare” and the highly regarded “A Very Long Engagement,” and she has also attempted to break into the English-language market with appearances in “Big Fish” (where she was the French wife of Billy Crudup) and “A Good Year” (where she was the feisty waitress who got her fou all mixed up in Russell Crowe’s amour). However, it is equally unlikely that she will remain unknown once word gets out about her mesmerizing turn as famed French singer Edith Piaf in the French import “La Vie En Rose.” Less a performance than a total possession, her work here not only more than lives up to the considerable hype that has surrounded it ever since the film debuted earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival, it transforms an otherwise lavish-but-undistinguished musical biopic into one of the must-sees of the summer.

The short and turbulent life of Piaf (who was only 47 when she died in 1963) was the kind of story filled with so many twists, turns and abrupt changes of fortune that if co-writer/director Olivier Dahan were to position it as a work of fiction, it might be ridiculed for being too implausible. As a young girl, we see her being raised in a brothel run by her paternal grandmother in Normandy when her circus performer father goes off to find work, battling a bout of temporary blindness, losing a surrogate mother (Emmanuelle Seigner) when Dad returns to claim her and discovering her gift with a song while working with him on the streets. A few years go by and Edith is still singing in the streets, now accompanied by loyal sidekick Momone (Sylvie Testud), until she is discovered by nightclub owner Louis Leplee (Gerard Depardieu) and put on his stage as “The Little Sparrow.” The union with Leplee doesn’t last too long (and ends in the most scandalous manner possible) but she soon becomes the toast of Paris–even Cocteau writes a play just for her to perform–and even ventures across the pond to America to increase her fame and fortune. The rest of her life was a roller-coaster of heartbreak (a romance with a married prizefighter), tragedy (the resolution of that particular affair), sex, drugs, illness, public collapses and equally public comebacks. The genius of Piaf, however, was that she took all of that and channeled it into her art and the resulting songs, especially her signature tune, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” carried such raw power and emotion–almost too much to plausibly be emerging from such a tiny source as Piaf–that they still carry the power to raise the hairs on your neck no matter how many times you have listened to them before.

The problem with “La Vie En Rose”–the film, not the song–is that it is a tune that we have heard far too many times in the past, especially now that Oscar-grabbing musical biopics are all the rage in the wake of “Ray” and “Walk the Line,” and Dahan can’t quite find a fresh approach to the material. To give him credit, he does make an effort along those lines by telling Piaf’s story in a more impressionistic manner instead of giving it a more linear narrative. At first, the jumping back and forth in time is a little annoying but I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt on the assumption that he chose such an unusual approach for a specific reason that would eventually pay off in the end–alas, the hoped-for payoff (a heretofore unmentioned element of Piaf’s past) doesn’t quite have the emotional impact that it was meant to have and you are left with the sense that the structure was only utilized to give viewers the impression (no pun intended) that they are seeing something fresher than they have been given. Another problem is that by giving us what amounts to a Greatest Hits rendition of Piaf’s life, we don’t get much of a sense of who Piaf really was as a person in-between her high and low points–there is one low-key scene in which she sits in a New York diner and contemplates a pastrami sandwich that is so effortlessly charming that you wish that the film had included more of them as a breather from the other histrionics. Perhaps he eliminated such material because he was working on the theory that only misery and anguish can inspire great art–that may well be true if you are creating the art but, as this film shows, that doesn’t necessarily extend to art about the creating of that art.

And yet, while watching “La Vie En Rose” unfold, I found myself so completely taken with the work of Marion Cotillard that all of its flaws faded into the background. Yes, you could argue that she is perhaps too tall to play the famously petite Piaf and yes, you could argue that she is only lip-synching her musical performances (which are a combination of the actual Piaf and a vocal impersonator). However, she throws herself into the character with such furious abandon that she not only seems more than convincing in selling the illusion that she is singing but even manages to sell the illusion that she is smaller than she actually is. This is more than just an impression, however, because Cotillard goes beyond the music and the known biographical details to Piaf into a living, breathing person as authentic and complex as one could possibly want–instead of simply making her a put-upon saint, which is the approach than many a biographer might have taken, she takes pains to make her a bit of a pain as well at times. The result is a powerhouse performance that, in its own way, does for acting what Edith Piaf did with her singing–she brings everything to the surface in the most intense, in-your-face manner possible but does it with such unlikely delicacy and grace that you can’t believe what you are seeing (or hearing) and you damn sure can’t turn away from it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15969&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/15/07 01:49:24
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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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