La Vie en Rose

Rated 3.0

Director Olivier Dahan, with co-writer Isabelle Sobelman, tackles the life of Edith Piaf, the tragic chanteuse whose mournful ballads of seamy street life—sung from obvious but embellished experience—turned her desperate, tremulous rasp into the sound of Paris. With a standard array of biopic set pieces, Dahan stirs up palpable astonishment at how many dramatic highlights Piaf’s short life was said to contain. For fidelity’s sake, apparently, his film doesn’t seem to mind feeling 47-years long. This has the unfortunate effect of dulling the music’s immediacy, which isn’t an easy feat and probably is the last thing a Piaf movie needs. But yes, there’s good news: She is played by Marion Cotillard, in a fierce and brilliant and finely controlled performance that you actually don’t have to be French to understand. Actually, the actor is a much more efficient worker than her director, who inclines to saturating every scene with decadent gestures and dwelling on the significance of heavy emotions. Such bracingly vinegary music doesn’t need so honeyed an elaboration.