Bittersweet Bio-Pic Revisits Tragic Life of Legendary Chanteuse
By Kam Williams
Edith Piaf (1915-1963) was an unwanted waif who rose from humble roots to become a national treasure in her native France. Born in Paris, she was left as a toddler in the care, if you want to call it that, of her paternal grandmother, a chef at a bawdy brothel in Normandy.
Not surprisingly, the sickly street urchin endured a host of woes during her formative years spent at the whore house, beginning with a bout with blindness which would last from three until she was miraculously cured at 7 during a religious pilgrimage. At 14, rather than become a prostitute, she turned to singing for tips to support herself. By 17, she was a single-mom, though her died daughter died a couple of years later of meningitis.
Next, Edith took up with a pimp intent on turning her out, but was saved when she was discovered by Louis Leplee (Gerard Depardieu) the impresario who gave the pint-sized street performer a gig at his nightclub, and the rest, as they say, is history. However, while the celebrated chanteuse would go on to a legendary musical career, her private life would continue to be marked mostly by tragedy.
La Vie en Rose is a relentlessly-depressing, warts-and-all biopic which depicts the untimely demise of a diva due to the toll taken on her body and soul by a combination of unfortunate disasters: the passing of her mentor, a car crash, drug addiction, infidelity, failed marriages, and so forth. Less an enlightening, insightful tale than an encyclopedic accounting of a series of flashbacks, the best thing this film has going for it are the impassioned strains of Piaf’s actual voice as heard on her original recordings (except for four new versions done by Jil Aigrot).
Regardless, all these classics are lip-synched by look-a-like Marion Cotillard, who at least bears an uncanny resemblance to the 4’8” dynamo she’s been asked to impersonate.
Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity, profanity, substance abuse, and mature themes.
In French and English with subtitles.
Running time: 141 minutes
Studio: HBO Home Video
DVD Extras: “Stepping into Piaf” featurette detailing Marion Cotillard’s transformation into Edith Piaf.