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A FilmExposed Film Review

La Vie En Rose (La Môme) (12)

La Vie En Rose (La Môme) (12)

Dir: Olivier Dahan, 2007, France/US/Czech Republic, 140 mins, French with subtitles
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, PASCAL GREGGORY, Emmanuelle Seigner, GÉRARD DEPARDIEU, Jean-Pierre Martins

French legend Edith Piaf captivated audiences with her impassioned renditions of signature songs like Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien and La Vie En Rose, and was known as much for her transcendental voice as for her turbulent personal life. Writer-director Olivier Dahan delivers an intimate, very human portrait of Piaf in the latest film treatment of the driven artist.

Born in Paris in 1915, Edith Giovanna Gassion - or ‘kid sparrow’ as she was later nicknamed - had a life replete with drama and sorrow. Abandoned and raised in a brothel; temporarily blind in childhood; growing up in abject poverty surrounded by pimps, hookers and junkies; on the road with her circus-performing father; and struggling to survive as a street performer before being discovered and groomed for stardom, Piaf’s life was anything but ordinary. Piaf channelled personal tragedy into her art and her poignant ballads made her an international icon, but happiness was fleeting in a life dogged by illness, addiction and loss.

Unfettered by the trappings of the conventionally structured biopic and adopting highly stylised, cross-timing editing, La Vie En Rose captures pivotal moments from all stages of Piaf’s life. Scenes dart between the slums of her childhood, glamorous concert halls in Paris and New York during her heyday, and the final stages of her life, when physical decline had prematurely aged her and led to frequent onstage collapse. The result is a kaleidoscopic presentation of intense, shifting images driven by emotive sensations. Dahan observes ‘The narrative had to be impressionist, not linear. I wanted to intertwine various periods, skipping from one period to another by associating ideas or images, like when memories flash through your mind.’

Unifying this dazzling cinematic mosaic is a monumental central performance by Oscar-worthy French actress Marion Cotillard (A GOOD YEAR (2006)), who not only underwent a dramatic physical transformation, but exudes the very spirit of Piaf, personifying her mannerisms and body language to uncanny effect, and capturing her hunched posture and frailty in later life. Piaf’s songs are the heart of the film, and Cotillard’s lip-synching to original recordings is faultless. The film is not a complete account of Piaf’s life, and there are notable omissions, such as Piaf’s involvement with the French Resistance during World War Two, and her catalogue of celebrity acquaintances and lovers. The most sustained narrative thread is her relationship with married boxing champion Marcel Cerdan (Martins), by all accounts the love of her life.

La Vie En Rose is visually mesmerising, with vibrant colours and exquisite mastery of light and shadow revealing Dahan’s art-school approach to filmmaking. The most symbolic, dreamlike sequence occurs when Piaf receives devastating news about a loved one. Running distraught through her apartment, surrounded by solemn caretakers, she suddenly bursts onto a stage with a full audience and finds herself performing. With its chaotic pacing and relentlessly high emotional pitch, La Vie En Rose can be a demanding watch and, at 140 minutes, could have benefited from swifter editing. Yet it remains a masterful and profoundly affecting piece, owing much to Cotillard’s spectacular performance.


Saba Chaudry

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