Larger than life
La Vie en Rose tells the story of France’s beloved chanteuse Édith Piaf
Édith Piaf may not be a name immediately familiar to those of us on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. But listen to one of her trademark songs—the oft-remade “La Vie en Rose,” the title of this biopic, or “Je ne Regrette Rien,” for example (they’re available on YouTube). Her voice is unmistakable and unforgettable.
La Vie en Rose tells the story behind that voice—and despite its title, it isn’t all rosy. Marion Cotillard couldn’t have done a more magnificent job playing a woman who made the leap from poor street performer to one of France’s most beloved chanteuses. Rocky romances, a troubled family life and a morphine addiction are just a few of the obstacles she faces along the way.
Raised by prostitutes in the Paris brothel where her grandmother worked, and then toted around by her alcoholic father, who was a contortionist in the circus, Édith’s early years were speckled with sickness and sadness. Her first singing audience was on a street corner after her father quit his job.
Édith’s voice was, by all means, larger than life (especially considering she was only 4-foot-8). Cotillard is fabulous in the turbulent role—Édith is in one scene painfully shy on stage at her first music-hall performance and in the next all ego as a famous singer with records and sold-out audiences. Her health also roller coasters as she becomes addicted to morphine after a car accident.
Cotillard and the rest of the cast in La Vie en Rose are nearly flawless, and the music truly brings Édith to life on the screen, even though she died more than 50 years ago. The only setback to the film is its jumping back and forth between time frames and inconsistent labeling of places and dates. This gets worse as the movie goes on.
In the end, however, the dates don’t matter as much as the music. The final performance of the movie is likely to bring tears to your eyes, and the film’s coda does wrap up and give a passable reason for any incoherency toward the end.