#139 La Vie En Rose

(2007, Olivier Dahan)

“I can’t? Then what’s the point of being Edith Piaf?”

OK, I know nothing about Edith Piaf beyond the fact that she’s a French singer and her song “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” was in Inception. I was also aware that La Vie En Rose is about her life, but that was again due to the Inception connection, strengthened by Marion Cotillard being in both movies (as Mal in Inception and as Edith Piaf herself in this). But I will do my best to review this movie despite my limited knowledge of the singer all the same.

So, La Vie En Rose is a biopic of Edith Piaf, detailing her life from poor street singer to music hall star to international success story, detailing all the ups and downs of both her career and personal life along the way.

The problem is, La Vie En Rose is a little unclear about how it wants to present Piaf’s life. Director Olivier Dahan seems to have set himself a lofty goal by trying to make a film about her entire life, and trying to cram 47 years into two hours isn’t easy, and it shows. Instead of focusing on her tumultuous personal life or focusing entirely on her already fascinating career, Dahan has decided to try and do everything, making the film feel rushed and incomplete at times.

It doesn’t help that Dahan confusingly decided to tell her story completely out of sequence. We see her childhood mixed in with her old age which is then mixed in with her teen years and then back to her late career and back again with no real direction. There are signs that much of the film appears to be told through Piaf’s memories, tying in loosely with the theme of “no regrets” that makes up her biggest song. The problem is that while some of these scenes tie together neatly, there are some that simply don’t and I wished that Dahan had just stuck to a traditional biopic structure that followed her life.

Because of this sometimes confusing structure, it can be hard to piece together who much of the supporting cast was, as they were often introduced suddenly and dropped as we skipped to a period of time where they weren’t around anymore or had yet to materialise.

It’s also a little depressing that the movie chooses to focus a lot on the worst things that happened to Piaf such as the murder of her mentor or her troubled love affair with boxer Marcel Cerdan. It makes it seem like Piaf was never happy in her entire life, and for a movie supposedly honouring her life, that seems a little strange.

That said, La Vie En Rose is very well executed despite these issues. The use of her music intertwining with the scenes is implemented perfectly, and the final scenes of her singing “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien” were mesmerising. There are some very clever moments on display here too, such as Piaf crying in a dressing room before her first major performance, being told to stand and suddenly finding herself on stage, as well as her expertly shot breakdown when she realises Marcel has died.

It helps that Marion Cotillard is fantastic in the lead role too. Her performance perfectly switches from her young, vibrant and slightly quirky self to the much frailer elder Piaf. While the make-up job is a factor in bringing this out, the fact that I never noticed that this was Leo’s wife from Inception certainly showed that she did a great job. She also manages to accurately portray Piaf’s movements to the point where you could be convinced that she genuinely is her.

It’s certainly an interesting movie, and there are moment where it works out well, but on the whole it’s a little messy. Not to mention that it unfortunately means little to those of us who know nothing about Edith Piaf, since I had to do extra background research on her before writing this review.

That said, I have no regrets for watching it.

Starring Marion Cotillard, Gerard Depardieu & Sylvie Testud
Written by Isabelle Sobelman & Olivier Dahan
Produced by Alain Goldman
Music by Christopher Gunning
Cinematography by Tetsuo Nagata
Edited by Richard Marizy

Favourite Scene: The transition from Marcel’s death into a performance of “L’Hymne à l’amour” is powerful, and impressively, all done in a single long shot.
Scene That Bugged Me: The sudden mention of her lost child towards the end felt shoehorned in for no good reason.

Watch it if: You’re a fan of Edith Piaf
Avoid it if: You expect the Inception logo to thud onto the screen after the final scene

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Posted on November 22, 2012, in 2000s, Biopic, Drama, France, Musical and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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