La Vie en Rose Review

Jun 16, 2007 | 2:36pm EDT

Told in a sometimes-confusing collection of flashbacks and flash forwards La Vie en Rose traces the beloved French singer's troubled life from her early years in her grandmother's Normandy brothel to her death at age 47 as a frail morphine-addicted wreck. Born Edith Giovanna Gassion in 1915 Paris Piaf first won fans as a young street performer. Years later when she was a gamine girl just out of her teens she was discovered by Louis Leplée (Gerard Depardieu) who helped launch her career as a cabaret chanteuse and gave her the nickname that would stick with her for life: "Piaf " slang for "sparrow." She went on to worldwide success but her personal life remained unstable with weaknesses for drinking and drugs eventually blossoming into full-blown addiction after the tragic death of her one true love boxer Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins). From start to finish La Vie en Rose is Marion Cotillard's movie. The two young actresses who portray Piaf as a child (Manon Chevallier and Pauline Burlet) do a good job paving the way--Burlet is particularly soulful and touching--but once Cotillard takes over Piaf really comes to life. And does she ever. Like Judy Davis in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows Cotillard inhabits her character so fully that it's hard to believe you're not watching Piaf herself. Brazen and shy brash and girlish Cotillard's Piaf is a study in contradictions and vulnerability. Her outspoken confidence masks a deep-seated fear of loneliness--which along with her passion for singing and her ardor for Cerdan were the ruling emotions of her life. The way that Cotillard conveys the havoc that those emotions wreaked on Piaf's life is sometimes showy but always heartfelt. Opting for nonlinear storytelling in a biopic is a bold choice--and one that doesn't quite work for La Vie en Rose. Just when you're starting to get a handle on the sequence of events that led to Piaf's sadly premature death a new wrinkle arises that leaves you doing some quick timeline math (did the car crash come before or after the collapse on stage? when exactly did she first start taking morphine?)--which ends up distancing you from both Piaf and her story. The Little Sparrow remains somewhat of an enigma throughout the movie no matter how many melodramatic outbursts she has or drunken confessions she makes. Happily the music is fantastic--how could it not be with Piaf's classic songs mingling with the cabaret smoke and ringing out in the grand music halls? It's just too bad that La Vie en Rose isn't as affecting as the ballad it's named for.

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