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June 17, 2007


Movie Review – La Vie en Rose (2007)


La Vie en Rose (2007)

La Vie en Rose is a French film which is a biopic of the iconic French singer Edith Piaf. The film covers nearly Piaf’s entire life, concentrating on certain points: her childhood growing up in a brothel, the start of her singing career, her relationship with the boxer Marcel Cerdan, and Piaf’s death.

All the acting in the film is fine, but Marion Cotillard really shines as Edith Piaf. Piaf is not as well known to me as subjects of other recent music biopics such as Ray Charles or Johnny Cash, but Piaf’s unfamiliarity to American audiences does not detract from her performance. Cotillard portrays Piaf as crass and aggressive, but occasionally prone to stage fright. She can be sweet to Marcel (Jean-Pierre Martins) or she can be rude and demanding to her underlings. In one scene, she walks through her large apartment and has to show the full range of emotions in the same scene, all in one continuous tracking shot.

This brings us to the other thing I really enjoyed about the film. The film is very well-done visually. It is not the sort of spectacle that will immediately grab you, but the camera work is artful while being unobtrusive. The set design brings early twentieth century Paris to life. Perhaps the vision is not unique, but the key is that we never question the veracity of the scene.

Whether you like the music in the film is largely a matter of personal taste. I recognized more songs than I expected, and the singing, performed by Jil Aigrot is quite infectious. The music is not really my personal taste, but I think the combination of Cotillard’s mannerisms and Aigrot’s singing probably gives a glimpse of why Marlene Deitrich commented that Piaf’s voice was “the soul of Paris” – a scene which we see in the film.

Unfortunately, the film has some flaws which keep it from being a great film. Though we see Piaf’s relationship with Marcel Cerdan unfold to some degree, there are still a lot of facets that are left unexplored. This is generally true of nearly all the relationships in the film. Even Piaf’s connection with her father, which feels like it should be more centralized, is given a cursory treatment. The film struggles to cover so many aspects of Piaf’s life that we never feel as though we get any of them in depth.

The film also plays with chronology quite a bit. At first, this is disconcerting. But, the shifts in time are there for a logical reason. Some of the details that the movie does not reveal until the end of the film would not have the same dramatic impact if the film was in chronological order. Still, the effect is jarring at many points and even the most attentive filmgoers would be confused about the order of events.

I think, with a little editing, this could have been a great film. The basic components are there: great acting, a good storyline and visual style. If only the film concentrated on a few key moments of Piaf’s life rather than trying to tell us the entire story, then we would have gotten a more focused film with a lot more dramatic impact.

3 stars

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Helen
    Jun 18 2007

    Do you know why the film didn’t use Piaf’s original recordings? I would have understood the choice if Cotillard had also performed the songs (like Phoenix and Witherspoon performing the Cash and Carter songs in Walk the Line), but since she was dubbed anyway why not use the genuine voice? Rights issues perhaps.

  2. Jun 19 2007

    I could not find a reason why Piaf’s original recordings were not used. There were two explanations I came up with: 1) Rights issues, as you stated. 2) A sound quality issue. Most of the Piaf recordings are 60+ years old. I can tell you that the music in the film sounds fantastic. Perhaps the old recordings would’ve been of lower quality?