Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard) parties with Louis Leplee (Gerard Depardieu) in La Vie en Rose. (©Picturehouse, Bruno Calvo)
Marion Cotillard won this year’s richly deserved Oscar for channeling Edith Piaf, the darling pop singer of Paris from 1940 to 1963. The lovely and talented Cotillard has starred in a host of French films and also in familiar releases such as A Good Year opposite Russell Crowe, Big Fish, opposite Billy Crudup, and A Very Long Engagement in a small but crucial role.
“La Vie en Rose” is also the name of Piaf’s signature song, an iconic melody synonymous with Paris itself. The title translates as “life in pink,” the French idiom for “life through rose-colored glasses.” And à propos, only an eternal optimist could survive Piaf’s endless hardships that most of us can’t even imagine.
Edith Gassion grew up in the streets of Paris in the early 1900s, repeatedly passed from guardian to loveless guardian. Her alcoholic mother was a street singer, her selfish father a circus performer, and her grandmother a madam whose brothel became one of Edith’s childhood homes, where, ironically, some of the prostitutes really cared for her. Edith became a street singer only by chance, but eventually her captivating voice launched her career as one of the highest paid performers in the world. Her manager named her Piaf, or “Little Sparrow,” and her voice was dubbed by the German actress Marlene Dietrich as “the soul of Paris.”
In keeping with the current trend of Hollywood fare, La Vie is no romp in the park but a woman’s lonely journey through sadness, grief, and the impossible hardship of growing up without life’s most crucial ingredient: love. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could have rivaled the uncanny Cotillard in delivering Piaf to the screen. And while she did not perform any of Piaf’s vocals, Cotillard mastered Piaf’s expressions, posture, passion, fury, and pain, to the point where she became her.
La Vie En Rose, a 140-minute biopic that may be in need of a 10-minute trim, will nonetheless hold you captive. Even if you are not familiar with her music or have never heard of Edith Piaf, this wilder-than-fiction true story of her brief but volatile 48 years will rattle around in your brain like a Dickens novel, long after the credits roll by. A
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