Long before Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix became famous for their sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, Edith Piaf made her mark as a hard drinking, partying, yet often suffering opera star. To some rock ‘n’ roll and opera exist fairly close on the radar. La Vie en Rose chronicles Ms. Piaf (Marion Cotillard) from her sickly childhood in the dirty streets of Paris to her “rock star” status in New York City and Paris in the 1950s.
The film, like Ms. Piaf (not her real name but more of a stage name) never sits still for a moment. Director and co-writer Olivier Dahan (Déjà mort) gives the audience a rollercoaster ride as it transitions from her early upbringing as a sickly, sometimes parentless child, who sings on the streets to earn money. The film uses the childhood base as a jumping off point to various points in her life; her teens where she worked with the mob and got discovered by a Paris club owner; her time coming to perform for the first time in New York City where she had difficulty adjusting to Americans and America and vice versa, and her constant battles with her friends and her growing ego and fame.
Speaking of fame, Cotillard’s fame will surely grow with her dynamic Piaf performance. She demonstrates a great range of emotions and expressions throughout. Her physical awareness and sense of tone only add to the realism of seemingly watching the real Piaf. The film retains a deep, dark look to it with moody Tetsuo Nagata cinematography. The film expresses so many things about Piaf but still omits about who she is, what she likes (besides booze) and dislikes. It’s strange that almost near the end of the film she grants and interview to a French writer who asks her about her favorite meal, her favorite color and so on. Questions like these should have been addressed much earlier and would have added to the film’s depth.
Aside from her drinking, her morphine addiction and partying we don’t find out much about her. The longish film hits a few bumps in the middle where the story slogs along. Much of the excitement comes when the film delves into her relationship with a married Algerian champion boxer Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins) where both the film and Piaf open up. At this point she displays more than her wild, party, suffering, and famous self. It’s too bad the film didn’t explore more of the inner Piaf which would have surely shot this film into rock star status.