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La Vie En Rose

Art House & International and Drama movie directed by Olivier Dahan

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Worth the time only for Marion Cotillard

  • Jul 1, 2008
Pros: Marion Cotillard's performance

Cons: The narrative was too fractured and random to bother trying to piece back together

The Bottom Line: Without an actress as strong as Mme Cotillard, the film would have been unbearably confusing if not just totally dull.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

Susan Sontag wrote an essay called “Illness as Metaphor” it was inspired by her fight against breast cancer in the middle 1960s. Twenty years later she updated it with “AIDS as Metaphor” using roughly the same idea. Why start a review of a bio-pic of Edith Piaf with something that seems so very far removed? A biography of an artist (or anyone if you get down to it, but art is the focus here) is not worth pursuing unless the artist suffered. If they enjoyed the success with their talent during their lifetimes, they have to have lived hard lives. Elvis, Janis Joplin, and Billie Holiday are all singers who enjoyed success during their relatively brief lives but medicated their lives with alcohol and harder substances.

Ms. Piaf was just one in a line preceding her and following her who abused their bodies either because they didn’t care or because they thought their talent would always be useful and lucrative.

For what it matters, I’m listening to Edith while I write this.

In La Vie en Rose Director Oliver Dahan covers the brief life of “The Little Sparrow” who died at 47 after a great career and a greater amount of abuse of all sorts. The film opens with Edith at about 3. She is dirty and half neglected by her souse mother who sings on the streets for change. Her father returns from the war only to hand Edith off to his mother who ran a brothel. She became attached to at least one of the women and is crushed when her father comes to take her. The circus that employees her father abuses her in its own way. Her father quits the circus and becomes a street performer (he is a contortionist). Edith holds the hat for coins. The crowd wants something from her and with perfect pitch she sings La Marseillaise.

From her the film jumps between the following tropes: street singer, singer in a brothel, discovery by a night club owner, fall from popularity when he dies, having her career re-established by a martinet poet who nevertheless pulls even more from the already talented singer; more than one love affair with men, with alcohol and with heroin; making a splash of sorts in New York City, and two convalescences.

I want to end the review in a positive way so I will cover the problems at this moment. The film moves from parts of the adult Edith (played astoundingly well by Marion Cotillard) to the younger versions (three and ten or so) fairly well—it is easy enough to follow. However, once the focus is only on the adult Edith, the jumping around becomes so random that I felt like I was holding all the puzzle pieces but didn’t have time to put them all together and when the credits rolled I still only had the puzzle about half finished.

I don’t want to go into detail just in case (this is a bio-pic but I still do not want to give away some moments that maybe should be left unspoken). Two things occur, one in the middle and one at the very end, that are hugely significant life changing moments but apart from the few second spent with them, we are given nothing else. If the film weren’t already jumpy, I would say that the specific consequences wound up on the cutting room floor, but as explained, there is no reason to believe this. La Vie en Rose is told in such a sloppy manner, I would have stopped watching after the first hour.

The reason I didn’t was Mme Cotillard. From her days as a street singer in Paris to her death, Edith Piaf went from a healthy, though near alcoholic, late teen to a gnomish woman of 47 who looked at least 80 when she died. Arthritis, physical abuse, alcoholism, and drug abuse began to make the woman move from the healthy girl to a woman who was slouching heavily even when she was more healthy than not. Mme Cotillard played this with a consistency that I felt like a voyeur at times.

Charlize Theron played serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the film Monster (Ms. Theron got an Oscar for this role). It was evident that Ms. Theron watched the ample footage of the woman she was going to play that it was frightening just how effective she was. I can only assume the same of Mme Cotillard. Her speaking voice was as rough as one would expect given Edith’s early life. Her French was so vulgar (meaning rough) that I could barely understand her despite being fluent in the language. Her carriage matched what I have seen of Mme Piaf including the very odd way she had of holding her mouth due as much to teeth as just a signature look.

Imagine a bed sheet ripped apart in various ways. Now throw them down and straighten them out in random ways. The sheet is still there, but the pieces are not in order. Mme Cotillard represented the idea of the sheet as a whole while Mr. Dahan decided to focus as much on what was missing as what was there. Apologizes if this metaphor is stretched or trite; but I think you can see it as an apt French type metaphor (smiley).

Obviously the film is peppered with her songs (and parts of songs during rehearsals or as background music). My gripe here is that there were not enough, but I doubt I am alone here and more focus must be given to the life than the work in a film like this

I don’t want to slight the other actors, but, honestly, they really didn’t matter. The most and least that can be said is that they did a good job as being talking props who didn’t get in the way.

The film ends with the song you expect. I give nothing away here based on logic alone; however, how we get from the inception to the performance of Je ne regrette rein was worth me watching it three times.

I can only give the film a tepid recommendation and I hesitate there. La Vie en Rose is over 2 hours long and often so difficult to follow that I gave up trying at times. Watch the star’s performance and if you like it, then stick it out. If you are not impressed, don’t bother going through the rest of the film.


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More La Vie En Rose reviews
review by . November 01, 2008
The story of France's most beloved singer begins in 1918 in a squalid section of Paris. Little Edith is abandoned by her parents and goes to live in her grandmother's brothel. There, she becomes blind from an eye disease and is cared for by the prostitutes. When she recovers her sight, she is forced to join her father as a street performer. Her remarkable singing voice is noticed by a night club manager and she begins her meteoric climb to success, but it is tempered by a series of personal tragedies. …
review by . November 15, 2008
This movie is based on the life of the famous French singer Edith Piaf, and will drain you emotionally and physically (if you're not one for long periods of sitting still)       Short Attention Span Summary (SASS):     1. Little Edith has a hard knock life with her mother, and eventually is "rescued" by her father, and taken to live with her grandmother   2. Grandma's girls (and clients) call her "Madame"   3. She is taken under …
review by . July 05, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
My knowledge of Edith Piaf extends to a few of her songs played many times over the years on the local classical FM station's once a week show of folk and other music. I knew nothing of her life.     "La Vie En Rose" with its dizzying flashbacks and flashforwards and cutaways doesn't really tell me much I wanted to know about Piaf. She led a tragic life of abandonment as a child, alcoholism, drug addiction, cripping arthritis, several marriages, many lovers, a lost child and …
review by . November 17, 2007
That 'La Môme' AKA 'La Vie En Rose' is a triumph for actress Marion Cotillard who manages to inhabit the persona of Édith Piaf is a given. This is a powerful, deeply moving tribute to a musical phenomenon whose impact on the world remains as heady as during her short lifetime (December 19, 1915-October 11, 1963). She remains a French icon but her singing and her life belong to the world: who can resist her "poignant ballads performed in a heartbreaking voice", the result of her life as an unwanted …
review by . October 07, 2007
Just like the singer herself, `La Vie en Rose' is a magical and vivacious entertainment. Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard) had two things in life that she treasured: love and singing. This Biopic French movie deftly hop-scotches between several time frames, giving us a composite of her life.     Rose had to grow up quickly and early, for custody was an unstable affair where she could be brought up by her mother, a street singer; her father, a circus performer; or her grandmother, …
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According to Marlene Dietrich, chanteuse Edith Piaf's voice was "the soul of Paris." This French drama explores the often troubled life of the singer as her fame took her from the City of Lights to America to the South of France. Abandoned by her mother, Piaf grew up in her grandmother's brothel and her father's circus, which is hardly the fun one might imagine. While singing on the streets of Paris as a teen, Piaf (played as an adult by Marion Cotillard, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT) is discovered by club owner Louis Leplie (Gerard Depardieu), and this chance encounter changes the woman's life. Her powerful voice takes her all over the globe, but it can't guard her from the pain and suffering she can't avoid.

As Piaf, Cotillard is mesmerizing. She fully inhabits the singer's ivory skin, crafting a character that never descends into caricature or camp. She lip syncs to Piaf's legendary voice, but the performance is seamless. Like WALK THE LINE and RAY, this biopic creates a fascinating picture of ...

Edith Piaf is the subject ofLa Vie en Rose, director Olivier Dahan's powerful if emotionally redundant biographical film about the iconic French superstar whose life, as depicted here, seems to have been a numbing succession of tragedies interrupted on occasion by artistic triumph. Dahan's portrait begins with Piaf's stay in a brothel as a young girl. Left to the care of her grandmother (who runs the place) after her father pulls ...
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Cast: Marion Cotillard, Marc Barbé, Jan Filipensky, Gérard Depardieu, Clotilde Courau, Nathalie Cox, Emmanuelle Seigner, Garick Hagon, Jaroslav Vizner, Alain Figlarz, André Penvern, William Armstrong, Caroline Sihol, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Edith Le Merdy, Pierre Peyrichout, Christophe Odent, Jean-Paul Rouve, Jean-Pierre Martins, Dominique Bettenfeld, Ashley Wanninger, Jan Kuzelka, Laurence Gormezano, Marie-Armelle de Guy, Jil Aigrot, Cassandre Berger, Catherine Allegret, Caroline Silhol, Manon Chevallier, Pauline Burlet, Alban Casterman, Elisabeth Commelin, Caroline Raynaud, Farida Amrouche, Valeria Moreau, Jean-Paul Muel, Mario Hacquard, Aubert Fenoy, Felix Belleau, Nathalie Dorval, Chantal Bronner, Cylia Malki, Nathalie Dahan, Laurent Olmedo, Harry Hadden-Paton, Laurent Schilling, Josette Menard, Emy Levy, Lucie Stainkrycher, Vera Havelková, Dominique Paturel, Nicholas Pritchard, Martin Sochor, Frederique Smetana, Lenka Kourilova, Pierre Derenne, Laura Menini, Oldrich Hurych, Mathias Honore, Diana Stewart, Jean-Jacques Desplanque, Robert Paturel, Olivier Cruveiller, Sébastien Tavel, Agathe Bodin, Nicole Dubois, Martin Janis, Eric Franquelin, Marc Chapiteau, Maureen Demidof, Philippe Bricard, Olivier Raoux, Helena Gabrielova, Sophie Knitti, Helene Genet, Liliane Cebrian, Nicolas Simon, Pascal Mottier, Thierry Guibault, Ginou Richer, Vladimir Javorsky, Denis Menochet, David Jahn, Sylvie Guichenuy, Fabien Duval, Pauline Nemcova, Maya Barsony, Rodolphe Saulnier, Fedele Papalia, Zdena Herforova, Pier Luigi Colombetti, Olivier Carbone, Christophe Kourotchkine, Robert Nebrensky, Jaromir Janácek, Christopher Gunning, Richard Hein, Elliot Dahan, Isaac Dahan
Genre: Drama
Release Date: February 14, 2007
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: November 13, 2007
Runtime: 140 minutes
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