“[Marion Cotillard] delivers one of the most transcendently effective and transformative performances I have ever seen.”
by Ken B.
Where did the power and piercing quality of Édith Piaf’s singing voice come from? How could she, standing four-foot-eleven, be the woman behind such carrying and vocal pieces? Was her life, marred by tragedy, the influence behind her interpretation of chansons and torch songs that have entered the cultural lexicon? She was raised in poverty, in Paris in the 1920s, her mother the madame of a bordello and her father always away – he was part of the travelling circus. And fast-forwarding to the future, we find that Louis Leplée (played here by Gérard Depardieu), the nightclub owner who discovered her, murdered in 1936, a day before his 53rd birthday, in a crime which still remains unsolved. And then, the one true love of Piaf’s life, boxing champion Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins), died in a plane crash in 1949, aged 33. And the woman herself was destined to a short existence – plagued with health problems since her early childhood, she wasted away, weaker and weaker throughout adulthood, before dying on October 10, 1963. She was only 47, yet had the appearance and physical ability of a particularly frail person decades older. So we come back to the first question – how was her voice so mighty?
Olivier Dahan paints this divide in La Vie en Rose, a starkly made biography. It is nonlinear, which is both a good and bad thing. It is nearly two and a half hours long, which is a good and bad thing. Conversely, it stars Marion Cotillard, which is a very, very good thing, as she delivers one of the most transcendently effective and transformative performances I have ever seen, sinking into Piaf, from her energetic career start to her heartwrenching end. Even when the film around her falters, with scenes that are sometimes attention-grabbers, and some that drift in and out, Cotillard keeps all eyes on herself, and her mimicry of Piaf’s speech and physicality are uncanny, the latter also meriting a mention of the movie’s outstanding costume and makeup departments. For whatever else that Dahan cannot quite pull off, his lead actress is undamaged, and emerges, delivering one of the finest examples of contemporary acting in recent years, a talent which is also mirrored in the capabilites of the film’s supporting cast. At times the movie is passionate and heartbreaking, at other times quite stale and dry, and running at 140 minutes, a bit long. But whatever happens, the acting makes it worth seeing, alongside the confident visual design and stunning cinematography. If nothing else, watch it for Marion. Seriously. When all else fails, she is the movie.
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