cross-posted at skippy and a veritable cornucopia of other community blogs.

the skippy’s have just returned from seeing marion cotillard’s amazing performance as edith piaf in la vie en rose.

cotillard portrays piaf from ages 19 to her death at age 47 (and in piaf years, that’s about 80, because of things like violent deaths of her lovers; drug addictions; childhood poverty, blindness and sickness as well as abandonment by her mother and then her father; a debilatating car crash; and alcoholism).

tho the film in is french (with subtitles), and jumps back and forth thru time more than billy pilgrim in slaughter house 5, as well as skipping little things like world war ii (and piaf’s role in the french resistance), the movie is a fascinating portrait of the tortured artist who devotes a life to performing because there is no alternative.
piaf’s story was one of ecstatic highs and tragic lows; such extreme lows that the globe and mail says that her life “makes judy garland’s tortured existence look like a day at the holt renfrew spa.”  but music was not only her salvation, but her whole reason d’etre.

like jamie fox in ray of a few years ago, marion cotillard’s star turn is riveting; but like fox, cotillard lip-synchs (as opposed to the amazing singing interpretations of joachim phoenix and reese witherspoon in walk the line).  however, perhaps because cotillard is less known to american audiences than fox is, hearing piaf’s voice (sometimes sung by sound-alike jil aigrot) come out of her mouth seemed quite natural and not jarring at all.

the supporting cast is incredible;  it’s always a pleasure to see gerard depardieu, in this case playing the impressario slash mobster that took young edith from singing on street corners and established her as a cabaret singer (and his lover); also of note are marie-armelle deguy as marguerite deguy, piaf’s long-time composer/collaborator, and jean-pierre martins as marcel cerdan, the married boxer that was the love of piaf’s life.

both depardieu’s and martins’ characters die violent deaths, tearing piaf apart.  one of the most incredible scenes in the film comes when piaf awakes to find her married lover in in her bed, presumably coming from the flight from orly airport to her waiting arms.  the camera follows piaf’s joy searching thru her apartment for the gift of a watch she wants to give him; as she searches she berates her staff for looking sad and disturbed.  finally, she asks what’s wrong, and she’s told that the plane had crashed.  she runs back into the bedroom to find it empty.  this is all done in long tracking shot, during which cotillard spirals from joy to despair, and then stands and walks down a hallway, past parted curtains onto a stage to begin to sing in front of a waiting audience.

it’s an amazing bit of theatrics that could have spilled over into melodrama, but writer/director olivier dahan’s deft hand keeps the soap-operatic tone to a subtle minimum, making the film seem larger than life only because the subject herself was.

marion cotillard certainly deserves an oscar nomination if not the award itself;  it will be difficult to find a performance more on point, subtle, and wide-ranging this year, from either an actor or actress.

if you are at all interested in popular music of the last century, french culture, performing and theatre, or just good old fashioned tear-jerking biopics, plop down the $10 and see this on the big screen.

but before hand, play the youtube above for the real edith piaf singing non, je ne regrette rien, the song that ends the film in a resounding finale.

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