La Vie en Rose (2007)

 “I’m never far from Paris.”

This wrenching biopic of the life of French chanteuse Edith Piaf is 140 minutes long, and it covers Piaf’s awful childhood, her turbulent adolescence and her doomed love affair with love-of-her life boxer Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins). Marion Cotillard plays the adult Edith Piaf, and she’s nothing less than amazing here as she ranges from a streetwise teenager who earns her living singing in the streets to a morphine-addicted chanteuse who struggles to make the next performance. Sylvie Testud stars as Piaf’s half-sister Momone, a girl who’s basically Piaf’s partner in crime until Piaf hits the big time, and then she is absorbed into Piaf’s large circle of caretakers, fans and hanger-ons.

As a child, Piaf was abandoned by her mother, left with her paternal grandmother, and raised in a brothel. In some ways, these are the halcyon years for the sickly child who is raised erratically amongst the prostitutes. Then Piaf’s father returns from WWI and retrieves his child, he rejoins the circus, and of course, little Edith is eventually expected to contribute to the family coffers, and this is where her gift–her marvelous voice–comes into the picture.

Teenaged Edith Piaf is singing on the streets of Paris for a living (and handing her money over to her brutish pimp lover) when she’s spotted by club owner Louis Leplee (Gerard Depardieu). While this was a lucky break for Piaf, as fate would have it, it was an unlucky break for Leplee. The film highlights moments in Piaf’s life, going back and forth in time, and this methodology works. Instead of seeing Piaf becoming Piaf (apart from a little stage coaching and a change of last name), instead we see Piaf being Piaf. She seems essentially the same–although her material circumstances do change.

Watching La Vie En Rose puts a whole new meaning to Piaf’s song : Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, for she led a life in which tragedy and triumph went hand in hand. One wonders what Piaf’s life would have been without the gift of that incredible voice. Here she’s portrayed as a not-particularly nice person, but as a woman who possesses an indomitable spirit and who knows what she wants. There’s a tantalizing gray area in the film concerning Piaf’s booze and morphine (up to 10 injections a day) addictions. At what point do her caretakers and manager become facilitators in order to secure the next performance? Directed by Olivier Dahan, in French with subtitles.

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Filed under France, Gerard Depardieu

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