Sunday, April 20, 2008
"Non, je ne regrette rien"
La Vie En Rose | dir. Olivier Dahan | rel. 2007
Instead of conforming to the conventions of a traditional biopic, Olivier Dahan's La Vie En Rose chronicles the life story of Edith Piaf with a series of nonlinear episodes from the singer's life. The way the story is told gives Piaf's story both an intricate canvas and a disheveled awkwardness. One minute I would be fascinated by the life of this extraordinary but vulnerable woman and the next minute, I would be frustrated by the film's editing. A part of me likes the idea of the episodic scenes of Piaf's life but the other part of me feels like all that the fancy storytelling method is completely overcooked.
The film starts with a middle-aged Piaf but abruptly jump back a few decades to Piaf's childhood. These earlier scenes of childhood are a tad dull, as we see young Edith in the streets with her mother. After surviving horrible living conditions with her maternal grandmother, she is transported to live in her faternal grandmother's brothel and becomes blind because of keratitis, allegedly healed by St. Therese. When Edith's father returns from WWI, she travels with him and the circus. Nonetheless, there are still a handful of effectively touching moments from young Edith's childhood.
We don't really know in detail what happened during her teenage years (although a flashback revealed that she had a daughter), but at the age of twenty, she is discovered by an admirer on the street who gradually makes her a star. The young Edith is nicknamed "La Mome Piaf" (The Little Sparrow) and becomes a international superstar, enchanting the world with her passionate, dramatic singing voice. Soon, we see an ill Piaf becoming more and more dependent on drugs as she ages. A few more details of young Edith are told through various flashbacks, but none are as coherent and interesting as they should be. Those short flashback scenes detract the film's value because it does not maintain my interest but instead, keeps people like myself who are not familiar with the details of Piaf's life much in the dark.
What keeps the film from drowning in its own midst of cinematic creativity is Marion Cotillard's lovely performance as the legendary French singer. As Piaf, Cotillard captures the sensational humor, the tragic downfalls, the raging passions, the faithfulness, the bubbling talents, the extreme vulnerability, the artistic wonders, the agonies, and simply, the beating heart of Edith Piaf. Cotillard simply glides through the decades of Piaf's transformation (with the help of a terrific make-up team) with life and grandeur. A key scene where her acting talents are accentuated with such powerful force and maturity is when Piaf finds out about her lover's death. In that scene, there is no question that Cotillard had become Edith Piaf, not only in mannerisms but also in spirit. In the final scene, she proves that she is indeed a revelation and this is a performance to remember. It has been a long time since I have seen a performance of a famous person that does not seem like a mere imitation, and I sincerely applaud Cotillard for that.