Director: Olivier Dahan
Although I can count the number of words I understand in French on a single hand, ever since I received an iPod for Christmas last year, Edith Piaf’s stirring “Non, je ne regrette rien,” has occupied a permanent place in my track list. The song, which translates to “No, I Have No Regrets,” is the last song performed by Piaf (played by Marion Cotillard) in Olivier Dahan’s stylistically experimental biopic about the French singer and it perfectly sums up Piaf’s life as well as it is musical, succinct, and filled with fiery passion. In a role that the director and co-writer Isabelle Sobelman tailor-made specifically with the actress in mind, Marion Cotillard (A Good Year, A Very Long Engagement, Big Fish) gives the award winning performance of the year completely transforming herself from her early 30’s Parisian beauty movie star stature into adopting the distinct mannerisms, speech patterns and difficult physicality of the star over several decades in a way that never seems like an imitation. The sprawling film chronicles forwards and backwards in time and while I applaud any attempt to reinvent the stale biopic and usually enjoy nonlinear filmmaking (when done right), in the case of La Vie En Rose, it’s a confusing work to audiences that aren’t all that familiar with the intimate details of her life. Within the first twenty minutes, I was already feeling a bit lost in the shuffle having to try and infer more than I’d like some concrete details concerning her upbringing and the health conditions that plagued her in the difficult childhood which found Edith abandoned by her street singer mother and dumped into the brothel run by her grandmother until her circus acrobat father retrieved her. Despite the fact that more questions are raised than answers are provided, importantly, Dahan includes some of the vital details of her evolution from novelty songbird waif amusing passersby on street corner for francs to becoming the international sensation for her distinct styling and way she just tore into her songs with a full-bodied attack that no doubt probably wreaked havoc on a system that was already abused from the unsanitary conditions of her youth and alcohol and drug addled adulthood. Still, I found myself more dazzled by the performance of Cotillard-- who, so dedicated to her role, actually shaved off her eyebrows and up back into her hairline according to IMDb to better resemble Edith and endured extensive makeup sessions that could last up to five hours-- than entranced by La Vie En Rose as a film itself. In the end, I decided I may just have to pick up one of the many biographies available on the singer but until then, of course, there’s always the greatest source we have on her available to us and that is also her greatest gift—the music.