Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Movies: La Môme (La Vie en Rose)

All the standard troubles of the biopic plague this film about the life of Edith Piaf, who basically had it worse than you can imagine for her entire life. Raised alternately in the streets, in a whorehouse, and on the road with a traveling circus in poor and filthy WWI France, she was torn repeatedly away from everyone she ever loved, and had nothing except for her powerful voice and an inimical zest for life.

The film progresses as a series of flash-back-like scenes, cutting from a1959 concert-hall performance to her 1918 childhood to her 1963 deathbed, back again to childhood, and then to the 1930s when she was discovered by a cabaret owner and taken off the street corners, where she had sung daily to earn her dinner. We see her alone and at parties, surrounded by her entourage of musicians and managers who all become care-takers; she had, it seems, numerous chemical dependencies—severe alcoholism, injections (painkillers?) often numbering ten per day, and later, it is implied, heroin as well.

Marion Cotillard gives a awe-striking performance, transforming from the bandy-legged teenaged street singer to the shaking, balding, stooped crone of 44 years of age (after such a roilsome and substance-filled like, Piaf looked easily twice her age in the years leading up to her death). Her big-eyed, loud-mouthed, fragile-bodied Piaf is the only pithy piece in the puzzle, though; she is surrounded by a hackneyed screen writer, a cloying director, and an irrelevant supporting cast (although her contortionist father is played with truly French aplomb).

There is, of course, the matter of the music, which is fine, but I wouldn't give the filmmakers too much credit for that; it is Piaf's own possession—her only possession—and it is the very best part of the film.

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