Weekend Movie Review: La Vie En Rose
I saw the biopic La Vie En Rose yesterday at the Chelsea Clearview Cinema. I went with The Barnes who (as I’ve mentioned before) is always turning me on to interesting things to do and see. I was missing Paris and I love Edith Piaf so this was how I ended up abandoning dancing around to Queens of the Stone Age’s new album Era Vulgaris and classic Heart songs to throw on a skirt and my black flats so I could take the J train into the city.
I met Barnes in Union Square around 3pm where I was watching old men play chess (a favorite). When we entered the Clearview theater, the first thing I noticed was that it was completely packed for a 4pm screening. By packed, I mean we had to sit in the neck craning front row. Sharing a soda with Barnes is easy – I keep my straw sticking out the longest so that we don’t get confused and end up putting our lips around each other’s gross spitty straws. Needless to say, I don’t like sharing straws.
Next to me was an old man who throughout the film was either sneaking peeks of my neat tee or my boobs, but I choose to believe it was the tee. The lights went down and you could hear a pin drop, and a cough, but everyone was in breathless anticipation. You could feel it all around you, and this is why I know that the digital revolution (as much as I love it) will NEVER replace the theater experience.
Since this film just came out, I won’t give away much. However I will allow that it is a dramatic and often humorous retelling of Edith Piaf’s life — from being rescued from her abusive mother and grandmother by her father, her time living in her father’s mother’s brothel and bonding with the prostitutes, joining the circus with her father, and later singing on the streets to support herself and his dependency to alcohol, and through her rise as The Little Sparrow into a world renowned artist. This film is in French with English subtitles.
The film alternates between scenes from her last years and her years growing up. The contrast at times, such as seeing her vivaciously (often drunkenly) singing on a street corner for her supper and then suddenly bedridden, a little sack of bones and skin thanks to her alcohol/drug abuse and depression, was very emotionally provocative.
I thought that Marion Cotillard did a fantastic job portraying Edith Piaf from a young adult to a near death woman in her forties (looking about 80).
In this film, Edith Piaf was haunted by memories of a traumatic/poverty stricken upbringing, a broken heart, and several addictions that all seemed to fuel each other, including her art. Like many female vocalists with troubled lives (but who isn’t troubled), her voice carried so much emotion that it swept up the audience in a fevered state of rapture. And their adoration gave her a reason to live, but the energy that it took to give what they wanted ultimately was (in my opinion) the primary factor behind her death.
When I was going through a hard time a few years ago, I used to listen to her music every night for months straight so that I could fall asleep. I would always seem to wake up to La Vie En Rose or Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien. Watching her sing this song made me have some sort of emotional breakdown in the theater. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling and I had no tissues.
It was a combination of my own personal memories, Edith’s voice, and the acting.
This is why I love films and want to make them. To make something that touches people on several levels all at the same time, and (if done well) that they can revisit at different periods in their lives and get something entirely new out of it — this is what I dream of doing someday.
New York Times Review of La Vie En Rose – I appreciate this review because it does objectively point out some perceived flaws of the film. However, I feel that the film was not trying to give you any specific understanding of Edith Piaf. She was a legend with a dedicated and still growing fan base and so rather than try to definitively answer “Who was Piaf?”, it presents portions of her life, and songs, and some personal documented insights that give you the individual the opportunity to form your own answer.
I feel that the best kind of biopic provides a combination of fact and artistic license on those facts, but ultimately gets that the audience has already formed their own perception of the artist and simply provides other ingredients to enrich that private understanding.