La Vie en Rose: Piaf's Journey From Brothels to Fame

Release Date: February 14, 2007 (Belgium).
Runtime: 2hr. 30min.
Rating: PG -13.
Genre: Music Biography
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Emmanuelle Seigner, Gerard Depardieu, Slyvie Testud.
Director: Olivier Dahan.
Stars: 5.

In the mid 1920’s in Paris, a young, waiflike street performer with a voice like a symphony, a symphony of pain, longing and sheer survival,was discovered by a nightclub owner, Louis Leplee ( Gerard Depardieu),who named the
waif “La Mome Piaf” (Kid Sparrow) and thrust her on stage in a posh part of Paris. The sparrow flew and became a star.

She was Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard),daughter of a café singer mother and contortionist father, and she became as uncompromising and unapologetic in life as she was in her songs. Taken from her destitute mother, herself an aspiring artist, at an early age, Edith was left by her father at her grandmother’s brothel where a wistful prostitute Titine took her under her wing.

Oddly enough Titine sang too with that same sense of longing (Emmanuelle Seigner) that Piaf later so eloquently mixed with strength and determination. Titine, probably the closest to a mother Edith ever had, nursed her back to health from a case of conjunctivitis that almost left her blind. From Titine, Edith learned to pray – to Saint Therese de Lisieux.

Then her father came back and wrenched her away once more. He had decided to leave the circus, claiming that he “always fell on his feet,” and needed someone to hold the collection hat while he performed. Unable to hold a crowd, he demanded that Edith perform something, anything and so she sang, La Marseilles, which was to become her trademark.

Edith continued singing for her supper until by the time she was a teenager and was both a part-time
prostitute and an alcoholic. Screenwriters barely mention her drinking but actress Cotillard makes it clear that Edith had a lip on her.

It’s no wonder that when a car accident broke two of her ribs that she should become addicted to morphine which eventually left her frail and hunched by the time of her death at 47.

Edith mentions how odd it is that both she and Billie Holiday were born in the same year and indeed the parallels in their lives are remarkable. Brothels, drugs, sorrow and a fierce will to survive led them both to achieve undying stature as artists.

Fascinating as her life is, even more wonderful to watch is the performance by Marion Cotillard. At times beautiful, at times looking like a drowned rat, Cotillard has captured the sporadic movements and flickers of emotion described by those who knew Edith Piaf. Emmanuelle Seigner also gave an emotional performance as Titine, fragile as a china cup.

The filmmaker may have tried to cover too much ground. One has the sense of a flipping through a series of sketches. Most annoying was Piaf’s first concert performance during which we couldn’t hear her sing but had to listen to a modern overly sentimental orchestral work.

The film uses both Piaf’s actual recordings and the voice of Cotillard. While the film is worthy and valiant, it is also unnecessary because well obviously, the songs say it all.

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