“La Vie en Rose” – Mathew Plale

Edith Piaf’s chords first soothed my ears during a mid-afternoon viewing of Saving Private Ryan. Her ‘Tu Es Partout’—a brief moment of solace for the soldiers—stole the show when German Tiger Tanks and Matt Damon were supposed to. She had, second only to Betty Grable, the most comforting set of lungs during World War II.

Berlin Film Festival opened La Vie en Rose (or La Môme) is Olivier Dahan’s thick textbook of The Little Sparrow’s life, built around a non-linear structure (jumping from 1918 to ’59 to ’25 to ’63 to ’35 to—get the picture?) that serves no purpose other than to mask what is a generic biopic.

The nuts and bolts that get such a film greenlighted: a traumatic childhood (temporary blindness while shacking in a Parisian brothel satisfying?), sudden discovery of talent (here by nightclub owner Louis Leplée, played by supposed retiree Gérard Depardieu), a marriage/affair or two, self-inflicted illness (alcohol suffices, morphine a nice touch), and an untimely death for good measure (experienced makeup department is key). They’re all here; but of course Piaf’s story isn’t the fault of writers Dahan and Isabelle Sobelman—the songbird was doomed to lead a life like every other tragic songster before and since.

Filmmakers of musical biopics have this unrestrainable tendency to measure the importance of their subjects by the running time of their film. Dahan’s La Vie en Rose is 100 minutes of importance elongated to 140 of self-importance, tracing young Edith Gassion from her youth in Belleville to her deathbed days at a shriveled 47, with everything and too much in between.

Such is the standard. But not all such genre-pictures require a stunning lead performance (was Jamie Foxx that good as Ray Charles?). Marion Cotillard, eyeing an earned and deserved Oscar nomination, is just as remarkable at embodying the passion and beauty of Piaf as she is lip-syncing and miming her. Aiding Cotillard is Dahan’s choice to exclude subtitles from the songs (many written by Piaf herself): the power of Piaf and Cotillard isn’t in the words, but in the projection.

But I’m afraid many praise Dahan’s film under pretenses, going ga-ga more for Piaf than La Vie en Rose, suggesting a biopic—no matter how standard—can be recommended solely on the appeal of the artiste at hand. Absurd: The Doors, Lady Sings the Blues, and Walk the Line are all deeply flawed. We’re thankful for Jim Morrison, Billie Holiday, Johnny Cash, and Edith Piaf, but must we continuously be bored with meandering reprints of the dazed and confused? Sometimes just one record (not one contract-obliging filmmaker) will reveal the pain and celebrate the life of a virtuoso: take ‘Éternelle’, tracks 1-18, twice daily.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-Mathew Plale

One Response to ““La Vie en Rose” – Mathew Plale”

  1. Kelsey Anderson Says:

    This looks like a great movie, I hope to watch it soon!!

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