BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Nov 13th, 2007 •

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In the annals of cinema, this is one biopic not to be missed. No, it’s not a perfect film (more about that later), but in this role of a lifetime, Marion Cotillard’s interpretation of French legendary chanteuse Edith Piaf (1915-1963) is picture perfect.

And indeed, she’s spellbinding, as she exquisitely reenacts the tragic life and hard times of the woman known the world over as The Little Sparrow, running the emotional gamut from despair to elation and way back down again, all the while flawlessly lip-synching to the original vocals that made Piaf world-famous. Even at almost a foot taller than the petite 4′ 8” songstress, Cotillard, with presence and passion, seamlessly morphs into Piaf’s body double, raising the bar on the standard of film biographies for years to come.

Despite the film’s title song (translated: “a life in clover”) that she wrote and which became her theme, Piaf’s short tortured existence was no bed of roses. Rather, it was more out of Dickens, updated, as this painfully moving but luminous bio clearly illustrates. Hop-scotching back and forth over the years, it follows Piaf from miserable childhood to her death at 47 of cancer, through a tuneful but tearful life, no doubt exacerbated by a lifetime of morphine and alcohol addiction. So don’t expect a happy ending.

Considering Piaf’s almost woeful background, it’s little wonder.
Abused and misused as a child, she was
-abandoned at 5 by her alcoholic parents (maman was a failed chanteuse; papa was a circus acrobat and contortionist),
-raised in a brothel by her grandmère (the Madam) and Titine, a caring hooker (Seigner) who nurtured the always-frail girl through a bout of temporary blindness;
-uprooted once again at 10 by her wanton dad to become a street singer in Paris to earn money to support their hand-to-mouth existence.

But at 17, her fortunes improved when she was discovered by a nightclub owner with Mafia connections (Dépardieu) who proceeded to change both her name – from Edith Giovanna Gassion to Piaf (colloquial for “sparrow”) – and her life, helping her become the world’s most famous, highest paid female singer of the WW2 era.

Cajoled by one of her mentors to “Live the songs! Do what I say or go back to the gutter,” she learned well. And as she moved from street urchin to superstar, from Montmarte to Manhattan, Piaf’s voice spanned the globe and thrilled generations. She was Numero Uno of the cabaret scene, numbering the rich and famous among her host of friends and admirers (i.e. Jean Cocteau, Marlene Dietrich) and lovers (i.e. Yves Montand, Charles Aznavour).

But fame and money didn’t bring happiness. Piaf went through two failed marriages, and in 1949, the love of her life, champion boxer Marcel Cerdan, was killed in a plane crash. Two years later, she survived two serious car crashes, which put her on a downward spiral of despair abetted by drugs and drink. Nevertheless, she continued her career with a cross-continental series of comebacks, where she was lauded and applauded everywhere. Piaf died at 47 (looking more like 90), a frail, forlorn wraith of the once-dynamic woman who thrilled and conquered the world – but couldn’t conquer cancer.

Plaintively, the film ends with her voice-over singing one of her most famous songs of all: “Je ne regretted rien.” I regret nothing.
The above is her bio-in-brief, which, to his credit, director Olivier Dahan, with co-writer Isabelle Sobelman, managed to lay out in epic, energizing proportions despite its gloom-and-doom subject matter.

You’ll be thrilled. Guaranteed. But – and the film’s main problem – you might be a bit confused logistically, as it flashes back and forth through her life in non-linear fashion, with often little clue when or where the action is taking place. Then, too, just before the finale, they drop a bombshell about her personal life (that l won’t reveal here) leaving you with a great big question mark.

Nevertheless, in the overall scheme of things, those complaints are almost immaterial. In the big picture, LA VIE EN ROSE is a formidable, unforgettable one. And as I did, you might be tempted to buy a CD, called “Edith Piaf, 30th Anniversaire” to keep a musical memory of The Little Sparrow with you long after the film’s end credits have rolled.

About Marion Cotillard: Though little known in the U.S. (that’s about to change), in past years she’s gotten a slew of awards in Europe – most recently winning one César in 2005 for Best Supporting Actress and the Chopard Trophy at Cannes in 2004 for “Female Revelation” – and was nominated for two others in 1999 and 2002. Come Oscar time, it’s a good bet she’ll be in the running for Best Actress.

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One Response »

  1. Hi Bobby,

    I saw this film not so long ago and thought it was amazing. It really captures the essence of Edith Piaf’s story. I love how her hard life translates into the passion she puts into her performance. xx inspiring!

    Rachel Bowen

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