Published Jun 07, 2007The tiny, frail-looking woman with the monstrously dramatic voice is a national icon in France, but the woman they call the "little sparrow is little known in North America, a fact that will likely hinder the success of this biopic of Edith Piaf.
Already a huge hit in France, where its known as La Môme (The Kid), La Vie En Rose is an impressionistic look at Piafs tragic journey, from her childhood abandonment and temporary blindness while being raised in a brothel to an early adulthood of alcohol abuse and extreme poverty to becoming the biggest star in France by the 30s before succumbing to ill health and an early death.
The film jumps back and forth, from her childhood to her final days, from her life-of-the-party heyday to her most extreme moments of despicable diva. Throughout, the film shines a spotlight on her unusual talent, and as Piaf, Marion Cotillard does a remarkable job, but the film doesnt do non-French audiences any favours.
When her early talent scout (Gerard Depardieu) is murdered and Piaf is questioned about her mob connections, its both the first and last we hear of the incident. Similarly, her marriage to an American late in life is completely muddled with her affair with a French boxer both apparently hugely influential, both conflated and confused in the films narrative. (One supposes, in North American terms, its the equivalent of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, but without context, thats a guess.)
Throughout, director Olivier Dahan (who wrote the screenplay) toys with our love for and loyalty to Piaf will her closest allies stick to her through hardships, serious drug addiction, obnoxious behaviour and fits of rage? Will we? The answer depends on your fealty to Piafs way with chanson, her capacity to convey rich layers of emotion even as (or because) she takes her last breath. No, she had no regrets, but I wish Id gotten to know her better. (TVA)