Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/20/07.
The name Edith Piaf to the French is a name they all know as the late singer is a beloved icon who sings songs of heartbreak and tragedy. Though her death at the age of 47 in 1963 was a sad moment, she was still beloved by her country as her fame had also grown around the world and in the U.S. during World War II despite singing for German forces in occupied France while she claimed she was supporting the resistance. In 2007, a film bio-pic was made about her life named after one of her most beloved songs entitled La Vie En Rose.
Directed by Olivier Dahan with a script he wrote featuring additional dialogue from Isabelle Sobelman based on numerous books. La Vie En Rose is the story Piaf's life from the streets of Paris to the world as she gained fame and infamy through her tumultuous life. Playing the role of the legendary singer is Marion Cotillard who had been previously seen in Tim Burton's Big Fish, Jean-Pierre Jeuneut's A Very Long Engagement, and Ridley Scott's A Good Year. Also starring Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Paul Rouve, Clotilde Courau, Sylvie Testud, and Gerard Depardieu. La Vie En Rose is an enthralling, enchanting portrait of one of France's enduring icons.
It's 1959 as Edith Piaf is in New York City singing but her health problems have finally caught up to her due to an addiction to injections. After collapsing, Piaf is sent to return home to France with her American boyfriend Doug (Harry Hadden-Paton) where she parties and makes more appearance before a car crash that killed Doug and left her injured. A few years later in 1963, the very ill Piaf reflects on her life as she recalls the time as a child (Manon Chevallier) living in the poor streets of Paris as her mother Anetta (Clotilde Courau) abandons her for a singing career. Forced to live with her maternal grandmother, her father Louis (Jean-Paul Rouve) returns from the war and takes her to live with his mother Louise (Catherine Allegret) who houses prostitutes. With Louis leaving for his job at the circus, Edith is in the care of her grandmother along with fellow prostitutes including Titine (Emmanuelle Seigner) who treats her like her own daughter.
When the young Edith is suffering from a disease that nearly caused her to go blind, it is with the help of the angel Therese that would make her eyes heel as her father would return to take her to his circus tour. For the next few years until she was 10 (Pauline Burlet), her father, who is a contortionist, quits the circus to go alone where he would find something in Edith's voice as she starts to sing. Years later in the mid-1930s, Edith is still a street singer singing for food and such with help from Momone (Sylvie Testud). During one day singing at a street corner, Edith suddenly gets the attention of a club owner named Louis Leplee (Gerard Depardieu) who books her at his club and brings her attention. Things go great until his sudden death in connection with the mob whom Edith is unaware she’s connected with. After that brief period of scandal, Edith is helped by her songwriter Marguerite Monnot (Marie-Armelle Deguy) and a new manager named Raymond Asso (Marc Barbe), Edith's fame rose.
In 1949 with a new manager in Louis Barrier (Pascal Greggory), she arrives to New York City where she falls for a French boxer named Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins) as they go on a date despite the fact he's married. Just as her life and fame was growing, tragedy would struck as Edith's life is suddenly in turmoil. After getting married and still touring the U.S., Edith's world starts to lose control as the Edith in her final years reflect on things she lost and such as she then recalls the final moment she sang to an audience.
With movies about singers starting to wear thin a bit with the typical cliche. Director and co-screenwriter Olivier Dahan wisely chose to not go convention by taking the film approach by taking the story back and forth to Piaf's own life from her final moments to her childhood to her last days, and so on. While that approach might take general audiences to be baffled by this approach, it works to tell the story of Piaf though some stories about her life are left out. Something that's likely to upset Piaf's hardcore fans but still, there's enough for them to watch and listen to. The structure of the script and Dahan's stylish direction works to reveal her humble beginnings, her discomfort towards worldwide fame, and notorious affairs including the one with Marcel Cerdan. Dahan's stylish direction definitely works to reveal the world that Piaf is in as it strays from becoming a bio-pic that is seen now lately in a lot of films. Yet, Dahan does fantastic work with the film and telling Piaf's story from her triumphs and tragedy.
Cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata does some great work with the film's tinted look of blue-green exterior shots in the streets of Paris and some of its country exteriors in Normandy to the more sepia-toned look for the film's interiors to convey the 40s-50s look of Paris and the U.S. Nagata's photography may be emphasized on style but it works to convey that dream-like look. Editor Richard Marizy does excellent work with the film's pacing that is very leisurely while using cuts to convey the moments of drama in Piaf's own life. Production designer Olivier Raoux does fantastic work in the design of the clubs and music halls that Piaf sings to the various environment she is in. Costume designer Marit Allen is also great for the look of Piaf's slender, thin dresses that she is famously is known for. Sound editor Pascal Villard does some wonderful work in capturing the sense of atmosphere in the music halls and clubs while conveying each moment in time.
Visual effects supervisors Seb Caudron and Hugh Welchman help in creating the film's look with its re-imagining of 1940s-1950s New York and Paris and the boxing scene as well. Music composer Christopher Gunning brings a plaintive yet dramatic score led by piano to emphasize the dramatic journey of Piaf's life. The rest of the music is largely driven by many of Piaf's famous songs that are played throughout the entire film that works for the film.
The film's cast is brilliant with small yet memorable performances from Andre Penvern as Jacques Canetti, Mario Hacquard as Charles Dumont, who are both two of Piaf’s songwriters, Marie-Armelle Deguy as Marguerite Monnot, Harry Hadden-Paton as Doug, Caroline Raynaud as Piaf's friend Ginou, Catherine Allegret as Edith's grandmother, Clotilde Courau as Edith's neglectful mother, and Jan-Paul Rouve as Edith's supportive father. Marc Barbe is excellent as Raymond Asso, Edith's manager who would make her sing with discipline while Pascal Greggory is brilliant as Louis Barrier, her manager to the end as he contends with her declining health. Sylvie Testud is good as Momone, Edith's street friend who just likes to drink with her while dealing with the presence of Marcel Cerdan. Jean-Pierre Martins is wonderful as the late Marcel Cerdan who charms Edith while becoming the love of her life for a brief moment.
In the child roles of Edith Piaf, Manon Chevallier and Pauline Burlet are great in conveying her innocence with Burlet doing the singing as the 10-year old Piaf. Emmanuelle Seigner is great as the prostitute Titine who becomes an unlikely maternal figure for Edith as a child. Gerard Depardieu is brilliant as Louis Leplee, the man who would discover Edith and become a father figure to her as he would pave the way for her brilliant career. Finally, there’s Marion Cotillard in what has to be a true, star-making performance as Edith Piaf. Cotillard's performance is spellbinding as she conveys the innocence of Piaf in her early years as well as her wild, drunken persona. In the other half of the film, Cotillard displays all of Piaf's performance mannerisms as well as her loud, drunken, diva-like behavior as it's shocking to see that it’s the same woman as Cotillard's performance is truly amazing.
The Region 1 DVD that presents the film in aspect ratio of 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Surround Sound in French that includes English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The only special feature, that is with optional English and Spanish subtitles, is a 10-minute special entitled Stepping Into Character is about Marion Cottilard's transformation into playing Edith Piaf in which the actress had to shave her eyebrows and the front parts of her hair while wearing loads of makeup for the character. Director Olivier Dahan talks about trying to convey each period of Piaf's life from her frizzy look early on to the regality of her great years to the decline where she has orange hair and such. It's a fine bonus feature on the DVD.
La Vie En Rose is an excellent and enchanting film from Olivier Dahan led by Marion Cottilard's performance. Those who don't know or barely know who Edith Piaf is will definitely have the urge to find her songs after this film. With film bio-pics about singers and musicians starting to become formulaic, credit goes to Dahan for not delving into conventions while giving audiences something to enjoy. For Marion Cottilard, this is truly a performance that will hopefully get some attention that is deserved. In the end, La Vie En Rose is a wonderful film to see.
(C) thevoid99 2011