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Sunday, August 26, 2007

La Vie En Rose - the life of Edith Piaf - no regrets

Non je ne regrette rien

The life of Edith Piaf [ the little swallow ] is filled with so much tragedy that to call La Vie En Rose overdramatic would be calling the kettle black.

La Vie En Rose is the melodrama that is the life of Edith Piaf from enfant to grande vedette - the presentation of her life flits back and forth from her birth to her last days in Grasse then back to the adolescent years marked by her desertion by her mother and with her acrobat father serving on the front of the first World War she finds a place she can be accepted in the care of the ladies of the night, especially one named Titine, in their bordello. However, from the very start she has always been a sickly child and suffers from a degenerative eye disease keratoconus whereupon she has to go through a period of enforced blindfoldedness.

Father reclaims her and and brings her along as he makes his living in a circus. After quitting the circus, the two quickly become an ensemble act on the streets, he with his stunts and her with a voice that would soon not be denied its place in the world.

As the film evidences, Piaf was the voice of Paris and France. Who can deny Edith Piaf? No one. She is discovered singing in the street by a club owner and introduces her for the first time before a crowd in his cabaret. She is also introduced to another impressario who later takes her under his wing and moulds her to becoming the perfect diction, dramatic singer who lives her songs - gesticulating with her arms and her eyes.

The fireball Marion Cotillard is a definitive Oscar contender as she plays Piaf through many of the phases of her tempetuous life - from a youthful teen singing literally for her supper on the streets of Paris with her best friend Simone "Momone" by her side collecting the tips from passersby - to the withered shell that Piaf has become during the last years of her life, yet she is still surrounded by loyal manager and impressario of the Paris Olympia: Bruno Coquatatrix and friends and determined to maintain her career. The fury and the yearning behind her eyes reflects a heart always longing for amour, love. As the pendulum of her life swings back and fro from her discovery in the streets of Pigalle by Louis Leplée [played with friendly assuredness by Gerard Depardieu] who takes her up and puts her onto the stage of his Les Champs Elysées cabaret Le Gerny and through his unfortunate murder at the hands of the underworld - an event which drags Piaf's name by association through the mud, yet she survives under the mentorship of Raymond Asso [ not entirely unlike the scenes in Citizen Kane ]. Newspaper headlines on screen mark her rapid ascent through her career, she no longer was "the little sparrow" La Môme Piaf but would become Edith Piaf - her record sales, concert tours - it finds a balance in the middle where she finds true love in the arms of a world champion boxer Marcel Cerdan - continuing with her attempting to break America through a string of shows in New York City and taking up with another American husband - the car crashes - and with one final swing she is at one of the last shining moments of her career - her 1955 concert at the Paris Olympia which debuts the story of her life in the song Non je ne regrette rien and fittingly concludes the film La Vie En Rose.

While the movie only touches lightly over her movie career and the names she mentors and loves destined to become famous due to her own name: the likes of Yves Montand, Gilbert Bécaud. La Vie En Rose ironically enough does not build up into Piaf's own penmanship of the song that became a trademark of her career. And the film definitely does not gloss over her affection for drinking, and her temper as she orders people about. She is after all an immense artist.

La Vie En Rose is an all-encompassing movie that reaches the highs of her triumphs of her songs and her loves and the lows of her life enduring heartbreak, and the addictions to alcohol and morphine which broke her body, but not her spirit. A remarkable performance by Marion Cotillard.

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