La Vie En Rose

La Vie En Rose

*****

Reviewed by: Max Blinkhorn

If you’re below a certain age, you’ll likely ask: “Who’s Edith Piaf?”. Piaf was a French singing legend and La Vie En Rose is her biopic. It’s a very French version of the “damaged-and-tortured-but-incredibly-talented-artist” tale. The French have a long tradition of 'La Chanson', a highly lyrical and quirky form of lilting, melancholic song. Piaf, along with the likes of Jacques Brel, was an internationally famous exponent of this peculiarly Gallic genre.

La Vie En Rose, literally 'life in pink' but more like '(my) life through rose tinted spectacles', is Piaf’s biopic. One of several. I feel that, thanks to director Olivier Dohan, it captures more of her spirit than any other has. Making no concessions to English (why should it?!), this film is a glorious piece of classically French cinema, despite being filmed by Tetsuo Nagata. I really cannot fault it, except during violent-camera-shake-for-effect scenes. It’s been a long time coming to the UK but it certainly exceeds expectations, standing head and shoulders above the multimillion dollar modern fictions that fill our cinemas.

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While La Vie En Rose is a straightforward biopic, it leaves the often dry, semi-documentary taste of such films down in the cellars and Marion Cotillard acts out the powerful and wonderful public notion of Piaf right down to the last tremulous detail. The story moves up and down her life and while as a style, this can be distracting, here it’s done beautifully and helps knit a big story into a tight little bundle.

Piaf, known in France as the “little sparrow”, is always blown before the winds of life, constantly stumbling from crisis to crisis, and yet she is irrepressible and bounces back almost every time. A lifetime of poverty, loneliness, drink and drugs takes its toll and an early sad death is inevitable. Along the way, however, we feel the passion of her life through her songs and it grips.

Manon Chevallier as the young Edith, under-acts a little, probably a directorial choice, but the pathos induced by this child, though played for, is absolutely heart-rending and I gasped in fatherly shock when she accidentally walked into a lamp post. Although only a short role, Gérard Depardieu is very much his great self, playing an astute and irascible impresario who discovers and grooms Piaf for future Stardom. There are many, many strong performances in La Vie En Rose, particularly from Slyvie Testud as Piaf’s enduring friend, and they all build into a great film which takes in the sweep of Piaf’s desperately short life with compassion and love. Oddly, the war isn’t mentioned.

Above all, the film leaves you with the understanding that this woman’s life could not have been lived any other way, nor would she have chosen any other way. The final scenes include an interview conducted by a beautiful Californian journalist on a beach and I for one couldn’t avoid comparing the superficiality of this elegant blonde woman with the power and passion of Piaf. And how old is the interviewer? I guess, about the same as Piaf..?

The best is saved till last and I won’t spoil it but I was deeply moved by this film and left with one large knot in my stomach. After you’ve seen it, buy some of her music and know you haven’t lived, yet.

Reviewed on: 14 Jun 2007
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A biography of legendary singer Edith Piaf.
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Director: Olivier Dohan

Writer: Olivier Dahan, Isabelle Sobelman

Starring: Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Paul Rouve, Gérard Depardieu

Year: 2007

Runtime: 140 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: France, UK, Czech Republic

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