La Vie En Rose: Review
La Vie En Rose: Review. By Joe Muldoon.
With music movies (see: Elvis and Tár) predicted to perform well at various awards ceremonies next year, I decided to check out a few award-winning films from previous years. Having seen most of the greats (1984’s Amadeus, 2005’s Walk The Line, 2007’s Control) and being a long-time fan of Édith Piaf, I was rather annoyed with myself for having somehow overlooked her fourth biopic, La Vie En Rose (named after her most popular song). Starring as the beloved chanson and torch ballad singer is Marion Cotillard, partially chosen for the role because director Olivier Dahan noticed her eyes to be similar to Piaf’s. Cotillard has a natural likeness to Piaf, but Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald’s efforts in the makeup department brought her towards identicality – the pair won a well-deserved Oscar for their work.
The biopic is a non-linear kaleidoscope of events spanning from Piaf’s childhood to her death, and we witness the creation of a widely-loved, but deeply troubled star. Spending her early years under the care of various relatives (her alcoholic mother, her circus performer father, and her paternal grandmother, a madam at a brothel), Édith has a clear talent for singing, and is eventually discovered singing on a street corner by a club owner, who promptly gives her the nickname ‘Piaf’ (‘little sparrow’). From then on, her star and public awareness rapidly grows, and she soon finds herself performing in concert halls in America as well as falling in love with the boxer Marcel Cerdan, who tragically dies in an air crash on his way to visit her.
As we flit back and forth across the most important years of her life, spending time in crowded auditoriums, in hotel rooms with her closest friends and confidants, and at luxurious events, our time with Piaf is experienced through the lenses of boozy decadence and devastating heartache. We see Piaf’s highs and lows, her friendships and loneliness, her rise and fall. All in all, we’re presented with a patchwork of episodes that document the cruel misfortunes to which she was subjected. One of her greatest achievements of all – as beautifully showcased by Dahan – was to take the sorrows of her short life and to transmute them into pure lyrical beauty.
Audrey Tautou was originally sought after for the role by producers, but director Dahan was adamant in his desire to have Cotillard play the esteemed singer. A marvellous actress though Tautou is, it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Cotillard in the role – a performance that was rewarded with 27 acting awards, including the coveted Oscar and César Best Actress awards. Her dedication is startling, with her apparently having shaven off her eyebrows and her hairline back in order to grow closer to resembling the singer. More brow-raising still, Cotillard shrank her body in order to reach Piaf’s tiny 4’11 frame.
Some biopics have crossed the line between being informative and exploitative, but La Vie En Rose manages to treat Piaf delicately and sensitively, not as a subject, but as a human being. Though a stunning depiction of her life, the film’s biggest quirk is also its undoing, and it suffers from its confusing time structure. Whilst non-linear event sequences can be exciting, it becomes distracting in this instance, and we don’t quite get the evolving image of Piaf that would’ve been possible with a more coherent chronology. That said, perhaps the back-and-forth is appropriate and reflective of her nickname, Little Sparrow, flying back and forth between memories. “Non, je ne regrette rien”, sings our dear Little Sparrow in the film’s overwhelmingly emotional finale – I certainly don’t regret spending 140 minutes with one of the world’s greatest-ever songstresses. No, I regret nothing.
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