I really had no interest in La Vie en Rose when it came out, nor did I bother to read what it was about. But after the film got nominated for four Academy Awards, including Marion Cotillard for Best Actress, I figured I'd better give this movie a chance.
La Vie en Rose, also known as La Môme, is about Edith Piaf, one of the most highly regarded singers of France. She was about fifty years before my time, and as such I'd never heard of her before, but Piaf certainly had an interesting life. Raised in a brothel, she went blind for several years before regaining her sight, thanks to a pilgrimage of some sort. She then earned coins by singing on the street, and was eventually discovered to sing in night houses before breaking into international popularity. Much of her life's history is based on bits and pieces, and some may be more legend than anything else, but regardless, she has a more interesting story to tell than most other singers, playwrights and artists.
That alone sets La Vie en Rose apart from dozens of other biopics about the artistically gifted, which, as loyal readers may know, are not my favorite kinds of movies. Most of these films have the same story arc (rise, popularity and then tragic fall due to drugs and eventually illness); La Vie en Rose has all those elements, but the way they are presented are much more dynamic and intriguing. The distinguishing factor is that even at the height of her popularity, Piaf was a tragic figure; while she might have been outwardly famous, you never get the sense that she ever achieves peace with herself. Hobbled and drunk most of the time, she is painful and yet engaging.
Of course, I saw all this through the performance of Marion Cotillard, who, by far and away, has turned in the best leading female performance of the year. She has a good shot at winning for Best Actress, and if she doesn't, I will be truly disappointed. The other actresses' performances, no matter how good, just don't compare to what Cotillard has accomplished here. Cotillard was beautiful in Ridley Scott's A Good Year, but she is anything but here. Her transformation into the slightly disfigured, high pitched Piaf is incredible at the least, and up until I looked her up in IMDB, I had no clue that this was the same person. And if there's anything that Oscar voters like, it's beautiful women who transform themselves into something else entirely.
The movie itself is also quite good, a notch above other films of the sub-genre. The complicated and disturbing story of Edith Piaf gives the film an elaborate, sizzling concoction of biography, character study and social acclaim. Director Olivier Dahan has given the film a very rich yet dark and brooding look, which enhance the ever-fluctuating worlds that Piaf drifts between. Groundbreaking? No, but La Vie en Rose is still one of the better movies of 2007.
La Vie en Rose is an interesting tale about one of the most intriguing singers of the 20th century, and features the best female performance of 2007. Definitely recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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