© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Marion Cotillard delivers a memorable
performance as French chanteuse Édith Piaf in
the uneven biographical movie
Anyone who cares about great acting should
rush out to see her work, which if there is any
justice, will be remembered at year's end come
awards time. Her portrayal of "the Little
Sparrow" is one of the richest, most detailed,
amazing and brilliant interpretations of a role.

Olivier Drahan, who co-wrote and directed this
lavish if overlong and somewhat sketchy film,
has stated that he wanted to make a drama
about an artist and his/her motivations. By
chance, he was browsing in a shop and found a
book about Piaf, giving him his subject.
Undaunted by earlier film and stage biographies,
Drahan forged on.

He and co-writer Isabelle Sobelman
opted to tell Piaf's story in a non-linear fashion
with scenes serving as counterpoints. This
device can sometimes perplex viewers, however,
although the makeup and some other verbal and
visual clues are there for the audience to
determine the approximate time period. Still,
some audience members who saw the film at
2007 "Rendez-Vous with French Cinema"
voiced their bewilderment. Despite this flaw,
most viewers were entranced by Cotillard's
masterful work

LA VIE EN ROSE opens in New York City in 1959
when Piaf was at the height of her renown.
There are flashbacks to her Dickensian
childhood. Raised in Belleville, she was often
neglected by her young mother who was trying
to make a living by singing in the streets.
Eventually, young Édith (portrayed by Manon
Chevallier) is left with her neglectful maternal
grandmother. She is rescued by her father
(Jean-Paul Rouve) who had been a soldier during
World War I, but the child is then deposited at
his mother's home -- which happens to be a
whorehouse. The child bonds with one of the
prostitutes, Titine (Emmanuelle Seigner), before
having those ties severed when her father
reappears after several years. He works as a
street performer but the now 10-year old Édith
(Pauline Burlet) draws a larger crowd and more
money when she sings. After fighting with her
father as a teenager, she strikes out on her
own. Ten years later, Édith (now portrayed by
Cotillard) and her buddy Simone or Mômone
(Sylvie Testud) are spotted on the street corner.

Her benefactor is Louis Leplée (Gérard
Depardieu effective in what is essentially a
cameo) who grooms her for stardom and give
her the moniker "La Môme Piaf." When Leplée
turns up murdered, Piaf's career is almost ruined
by scandal and implications she was somehow
involved. Like many artists, though, she was
able to reinvent herself and by exploiting
contacts, she begins her ascent to stardom.
Along the way are the various pitfalls that
plagued her and many others -- ill-fated love
affairs (like that with Marcel Cerdan, portrayed
by singer Jean-Pierre Martins), accidents, drugs
and alcohol. By the time she died at the age of
47, Piaf looked like a woman twice that age.

But that glorious voice! While Cotillard has sung
on screen in other films, here she lip syncs to
Piaf recordings or to vocal mimic Jil Aigrot who
was hired to sing Piaf's earlier songs (such as
"Mon légionnaire"), since the existent recordings
were deemed unusable. Aigrot captures the
youthful verve and her work is nearly
indistinguishable from the actual recordings of
Piaf that are included.

Again, I cannot say enough about Marion
Cotillard. From the moment she assumes the
role until her final scenes, she is nothing short
of mesmerizing. Her performance is detailed and
multi-faceted. One can already see the older
Piaf in the young girl of twenty as she hunches
her shoulders and walks with a distinctive gait.
Even when Piaf is demanding, she is
charismatic. Cotillard tears into the role and
takes the audience along for a memorable ride.

In the immediate aftermath of viewing the
movie, I was so taken by Cotillard's work that I
was more forgiving of the film's flaws. As time
went on, I began to reflect on the choices the
filmmakers made and wondered why they opted
to include some things and omit others. Piaf's
acting career is barely mentioned (but for a brief
reference to Jean Cocteau) and her associations
with Yves Montand and others rate barely a

Despite its flaws, there is still much
to admire. In addition to Cotillard, there are fine
performances from Emmanuelle Seigner, Sylvie
Testud, Pascal Greggory, and Caroline Reynaud.
The production design of Olivier Raoux, the
costumes of Marit Allen and the cinematography
of Tetsuo Nagata are all exemplary. Drahan
attempts to put a new spin on some of the tried
and true clichés and in some cases what he
does works well. Still, it all comes down to the
lead actress and Cotillard's work is among the
best I've seen by an actress in years. She
deserves an A+ even if the overall film doesn't
live up to her standards.

Rating:               B
MPAA Rating:       PG-13 for substance
                          abuse, sexual
                          content, brief nudity,
                          language and
                          thematic elements
Running time:     140 mins.
Sylvie Testud as Momone (standing) and
Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf(seated)

Photo by Bruno Calvo
© 2007 Picturehouse