Love or hate her voice, you can’t deny that Edith Piaf had quite a rollercoaster of a short life. Unlike many biopics, La Vie En Rose doesn’t have to struggle to find entertaining events to portray. So varied are they that you may be that they wouldn’t be out of place in a dramatic work of fiction. Whilst some biopics simply hope to trade on the fame of the individual without much of a compelling story, there is a genuinely compelling tale to tell here; Piaf herself not being all that well known to people today (if you ignore the Specsavers advert).
Clearly, the Oscar winning performance of Marion Cottilard in the lead role stands out above all other aspects of the film. It is one of those performances that is so completely believable that you get completely absorbed by it. Trying to think of other examples, the best I could remember was Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. You totally forget that it’s Dustin Hoffman.
The portrayal of Piaf also feels very genuine. There is no sugar coating. You feel that she wasn’t a fun person to be around and could be fairly unpleasant.
With a good story and an great lead, it would have been easy for the director to sit back and lazily wander through the story. Olivier Dahan didn’t rest on these laurels and created a perfectly woven time line, jumping back and forth to great effect. I suppose it helps greatly that there is no great suspense to be held. Most people watching the film will know or assume what will happen in the end. This enabled the director to contrast different phases of her life by setting them back to back and mirror the fragmented state of her memory in later life.
In addition to that, there are some real directing flourishes, the scene where Piaf reacts to the death of Marcel Cerdan is not only the acting high point of the film but also masterfully imaginative direction.
Having seen the film before, I was able to concentrate more on the visuals and they don’t disappoint. There is a huge variety on offer. From the grime of a downcast Paris to the glitz of New York at night, the colours and particularly the lighting never disappoint. If you have the good fortune to see this film in Blu-Ray, pay particular attention to the lighting in every scene, it really is tremendous. The variation in dynamic range, usually reflective of mood or circumstance, really challenges the Blu-Ray but it is spot on. The sound doesn’t disappoint either and if you can see even a slight glitch in the lip-syncing, you’ve done better than I.
Now, whether or not you want to watch this film could hinge on whether or not you like to here Piaf sing. Her voice may not sound instantly enjoyable, particularly in amid the sounds of today, but it does have an intensely evocative quality that the film matches perfectly. So, if you want to see a not particularly cheery story, told beautifully with some spectacular acting, you won’t regret (who saw that coming?) having a look at this cracking Blu-Ray.
*edit – just been told I coincidentally posted this on Edith Piaf’s birthday