"La Vie en Rose" watching the life of Piaf unfold is wrenching


La Vie En Rose is a biopic of the late, great French singer Edith Piaf. Set in both France and America, the film begins with Edith collapsing on stage as she is performing in New York City. From there the film flashes back and forth on Piaf’s tumultuous life, from her unorthodox upbringing to her rise and ultimately her downfall and untimely death.
Oliver Dahan’s La Vie En Rose is not the best film ever made of its genre yet, Dahan does do a worthy attempt at putting the life of Edith Piaf on the big screen. Like many biopic films, La Vie En Rose depicts many of the major events in the life of Edith Piaf. Dahan portrays Edith’s rough upbringing in her paternal grandmother’s brothel and later in the circus and streets with her father, effectively. While most of it is well done the film does have its flaws.
The music in the film works both for the film and against it. It is good to hear Piaf’s songs because they show how talented she was and why her voice was called “The voice of Paris”. Although this is good at times the music can become overbearing, and diminishes some of the scenes. It has instances when it over powers scenes and makes them less effective, as well as instances where it does the complete opposite.
At times the story’s focus like the music works against the film. The story focuses too much on the major moments in her life and forgets to put some emphasis on the small moments. By doing this, the film feels more like a live performance or melodrama than a film that tries to depict the essence of who Edith was. Though it is important to show key instances of her life, sometimes it is the small everyday moments that capture the true person and this is what in the end connects with the audience.
The secondary performances in the film are good but unfortunately not well developed. Gerald Depardieu who plays Louis Leplee the club owner who discovers her is wasted in this film, his performance is short and in those ten to fifteen minutes that he is on-screen he is given nothing notable to do. Like Depardieu, Sylvie Testud who plays Momone, Edith’s best friend is given very little to do. Their friendship is never explored or developed completely, and where their friendship ends up becomes ambiguous. Throughout the entire film the secondary characters are at times two dimensional, their story and why Edith is drawn to some of them is unclear.
Unlike the secondary performances Marion Cotillard is the central character and core of this film. Cotillard who plays Edith Piaf from her twenties till her death is surprisingly amazing. She is able to capture a part of who Edith Piaf was; her passion for love and her heart breaks because of it. All through the film Cotillard gives a consistent performance, she is as believable when she plays a young twenty something year old, as she is when she plays an older more frail, and sick Piaf. Despite the fact that she doesn’t sing in the film her lip-syncing is very impressive. Collard makes the audience believe that she is the one singing and what is most remarkable is how she is able to connect and feel the songs. Without doubt her performance not only elevates the quality of the film but its one of the best performances of the year.
In the end the majority of the film is well done and unpretentious. Its major flaw is the overall lack in simplicity, and development of its secondary characters. Even so La Vie En Rose is worth seeing, watching the life of Piaf unfold is wrenching and Marion Cotillard’s performance is mesmerizing.

* * *
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About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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