Combustible Celluloid
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With: Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Paul Rouve, Gerard Depardieu, Clotilde Courau, Jean-Pierre Martins, Catherine Allégret, Marc Barbé, Caroline Sihol, Manon Chevallier, Pauline Burlet, Elisabeth Commelin, Marc Gannot, Caroline Raynaud, Marie-Armelle Deguy, Valérie Moreau, Jean-Paul Muel, André Penvern, Mario Hacquard, Aubert Fenoy, Félix Belleau, Ashley Wanninger, Nathalie Dorval, Chantal Bronner, Cylia Malki, Nathalie Dahan, Laurent Olmedo, Harry Hadden-Paton, Laurent Schilling, Dominique Bettenfeld, Édith Le Merdy, Josette Ménard
Written by: Olivier Dahan, Isabelle Sobelman
Directed by: Olivier Dahan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for substance abuse, sexual content, brief nudity, language and thematic elements
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 140
Date: 02/08/2007

La Vie en rose (2007)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

No Regrets

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like many artists who have touched the souls of millions, singer Edith Piaf (1915-1963) probably deserves a good movie about her life, and someone worthy of playing her. The latter has stepped up, in the form of actress Marion Cotillard, in the new film La Vie en rose. Perhaps best known thus far for her performance as Russell Crowe's love interest in Ridley Scott's A Good Year (2006), Cotillard here gives a vigorous, demanding performance that runs the gamut. She plays a teenager all the way up to Piaf's decrepit mid-40s (during which she looked like she was in her 70s). She captures Piaf's rawness and awkwardness, and refines it as time passes. She doesn't sing (Jil Aigrot provides the singing voice) but she throws her words to the rafters as if she were singing. Unless I miss my guess, the Academy will remember this performance come next February.

Sadly, Olivier Dahan's La Vie en rose is a biopic, and so it rolls through its two hours and twenty minutes as an ever so slightly different version of De-Lovely (2004), Ray (2004), Beyond the Sea (2004), Kinsey (2004) or Walk the Line (2005). We have The Moment of Discovery, the Big Break, when the public realizes just how brilliant and talented our hero is, The Rise, during which our hero adjusts to fame and fortune, The Breakdown, when things start to go badly, and perhaps the Addiction and/or Recovery sequences, topped off with the Big Finale, or the crowning achievement in the hero's career. More often than not, the hero's romantic counterpart does not make the adjustment to fame and fortune quite so easily, and sometimes the hero meets someone new along the way. Casual audience members may believe they've seen the essence of a famous person's life, but it's all a bit more artificial than that. The problem is that the formula bulldozes over whole months and years within minutes, leaving out those smaller moments that build character, nuance and personality.

With La Vie en rose, Dahan tries to mix it up by presenting these things out of order, flashing forward and backward throughout his tale, and including a few dazzlingly lengthy tracking shots, but the tone and timbre of the scenes are still the same. The film begins with Edith collapsing on stage, and then flashes back to her humble beginnings, raised in a brothel by the beautiful Titine (Emmanuelle Seigner) and busking in the streets with her best pal Mômone (Sylvie Testud). A big shot club owner (Gerard Depardieu) discovers her, and she meets lots of famous people, including married boxer Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins), who would become the tragic love of her life. As she gets more and more famous, she becomes more petulant and difficult, and comes to depend on drugs. The big climax/redemption comes when she is presented with "Non, je ne regrette rien," which became a big hit for her just a couple of years before her death. In these movies, there's always a famous "cameo" from a big star, and here it's Marlene Dietrich (Caroline Silhol), complimenting Ms. Piaf after a performance.

Sometimes these movies offer up a few nifty supporting roles to go along with the lead, such as June Carter Cash (Reese Witherspoon) in Walk the Line, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) in Ed Wood or Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) in Capote, but La Vie en rose wastes its supporting cast. Depardieu disappears after about 15 minutes onscreen, and the potent, sensual Testud is nothing more than a shadow or an echo of Edith; her biggest stretch is that she gets to throw a jealous fit. That leaves us with Ms. Cotillard as the movie's centerpiece, and its end-all, be-all. It's a spectacular one-woman show, but not really a movie.

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