I first watched this film not long after its release in 2007 and I come back to it time and again. Like many people my age, I was only familiar with a couple of Édith Piaf’s songs prior to watching La Vie En Rose. But I was immediately fascinated by this portrayal of the famous French singer, whose voice was often described as the “soul of Paris.”
We first see Édith as a young child on the streets of Paris and then as a frail invalid nearing the end of her life in 1963. La Vie En Rose is told in a non-linear format and follows two general timelines. The first follows Édith as she grows up and attains great international fame as a singer, and in the second we see her attempt to recover from two bad car accidents, which left her with an addiction to painkillers, in order to perform one last time.
Abandoned by her mother and father as a very young child, Édith is left to grow up in her grandmother’s brothel and is cared for tenderly by one of the prostitutes, Titine. But a few years later, her father, a contortionist in a traveling circus, returns to claim her and forces her to join his itinerant lifestyle. We then meet her again, a few years later, living on the streets of Paris with her friend, Simone, singing for her supper. It is while singing on a street corner that she comes to the attention of Louis Laplée, a cabaret owner. From this point, the movie charts Édith’s rise to fame under his patronage through the time she spent in New York and California, until her premature death at the age of 47 in the French Riviera.
Piaf’s life had its fair share of trials and triumphs, just as you would expect in any musical biopic, but it is Marion Cotillard’s performance that is the real revelation here. Marion Cotillard gives the performance of a lifetime as the La Môme Piaf and in fact she won a Best Actress Oscar for the role (the first time an Oscar has been given for a French-language role). But by no means is the character of Édith always sympathetic–her fame and sycophantic hangers-on turn her into something of a monster, spoiled and prone to tantrums. But at the end, it is the gift of her voice that triumphs.
And what would a film about Edith Piaf be without the music? It features a long list of classics including “La Vie En Rose” and, of course, her swan song “Non, je ne regrette rien.” La Vie En Rose is a marvelous film about the remarkable life of one of the twentieth-century’s greatest stars and I highly recommend it.
Check the WRL catalog for La Vie En Rose