La Vie en Rose
- The List
- 19 June 2007
French singer Edith Piaf’s real life was the stuff of turbulent melodrama: she was abandoned by her mother and spent some of her impoverished childhood in a brothel, and she was discovered singing on the streets by an impresario, whom she was later accused of murdering. And despite winning the affection of millions through her heartfelt songs, the diminutive Piaf endured a series of failed love affairs and became addicted to painkillers following a car crash. By the age of just 47, suffering from crippling arthritis, she died of cancer.
Director Olivier Dahan heeds Jean-Luc Godard’s advice that ‘a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order’, by scrambling the film’s chronology. His highly stylised film ricochets between different time periods, jumping from late 1950s New York, to post-WWI Paris, from mid-1950s to the early 60s south of France. The scenes are brief, and often overwrought and without prior knowledge of Piaf, it’s sometimes hard to grasp the significance of what you’re seeing. Supporting actors such as Pascal Greggory as her long-suffering manager Louis Barrier, Gerard Depardieu as her first patron Louis Leplee, and Jean-Pierre Martins as the boxer Marcel Cerdan - supposedly the love of her life - make little impression. Puzzlingly, despite a near two-and-a-half hour running time, there’s no mention of Piaf’s activities during the Occupation, where she played for German officers and apparently assisted the Resistance.
The film is worth seeing however for Cotillard’s magnificent central performance. It’s not just her impressive physical transformation into her character, it’s the way she conveys Piaf’s all-or-nothing personality: this is a woman of strength and fragility, capable of treating her confidants with cruelty. And the chansons themselves, convincingly lip-synched by Cotillard, continue to electrify, with Dahan wisely leaving the very best - ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ (‘No Regrets’) til last. (Tom Dawson)