I am not a fan of Piaf, of French music, the torch-song tradition, or bio-pics that wallow in the misery of their subject. Piaf’s famously diva behaviour is toned down to mere petulence, excused by her drinking and substance abuse. The script explains her drive and her downfall as the result of abandonment issues and the desire for love through performance (although her motives in life were usualy more mercenary). It is the extraordinary performance by Cotillard that kept me watching…
Piaf (the “sparrow”); abandoned by her mother, neglected by one grandmother and raised by the other grandmother in a Normandy bordello, discovered by impressario Louise Leplee singing on a Paris street corner, learning her craft as a torch-song performer, rising to become the all-time great female French star, her career culminating in the classic “Non je ne regrette rien.” En route, the drink, the drugs, the Paris low-life criminals, a murder, the death of a child and of the love of her life (boxer Marcel Cerdan). Piaf’s 1951 car accident is underplayed, the subsequent morphine addiction that aged her prematurely made very clear. Through it all, the expression of personal emotional tragedy through song, dazzling audiences throughout her short life.
This is a distincly French movie in tone and style, redeeming director Olivier Dahan from the ludicous cop thriller Crimson Rivers. Assembling an immaculate supporting cast around his star, Dahan also finds two remarkable child actors for the young Piaf and with cameos from established French talent, skillfully stiches together a life both glorious and squallid. Some of the segues are stretched thin, some compressed, much like the approach to facts, where some of the obvious and well known are down-played or omitted entirely. Instead, we get the essentials of singing, champagne, infatuation and morphine.
All plaudits go to Cotillard and her multiple transformations from street urchin to ingenue to cabaret star, world famous torch-singer and invalid. It is an astonishing series of physical performances, capturing looks, mannerisms and movement from the beginning. There is something Chaplin-esque in the young Piaf; nervy, twitchy, desperate and appealing. She deservedly won both Oscar and Bafta for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. It kept me transfixed, even as I dreaded the inevitable moment when Piaf would sing “that bloody song.” RC
La Vie en Rose (La Mome) (2007)
Running time: 2 hr. 20 min.
Genre: Art House & International, Drama
Director: Olivier Dahan
Writer: Olivier Dahan, Isabelle Sobelman
Released: Jun 22, 2007 Wide