La Vie En Rose

October 29th, 2009 DVD Reviews, Film, Xpress

Remember Cameron Diaz’s first feature role? During her career the reformed Charlie’s Angel has been in some excellent roles where she’s held her on and owned the movie, such as the early arthouse flicks like The Last Supper or later gems like In Her Shoes.

But every Serious Actress has to tread the boards early as the pretty face in the background of a star vehicle, and Diaz paid her dues as Jim Carrey’s token love interest in The Mask.

I thought of Diaz while watching Marian Cotillard as Edith Piaf, because if you were one of the few who saw 2006’s ill-advised Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe rom-com A Good Year, you’d have seen her in a similar role as the token babe who centres the hero’s quest and teaches us all you need to be happy is a $25m vineyard and a gorgeous 22 year old French girlfriend.

Now here she is just one film later the centre of attention in the most serious of films, the biopic of a flawed artist. If you don’t know Edith Piaf, you’ve certainly heard her. She’s the one who sings that signature rambling French love song (Non, je ne regrette rien — No Regrets) from a million TV commercials and movie soundtracks trying to invoke a fantasy France.

Cotillard as Piaf is as magnetic as the real singer was (or how you imagine her to be if you aren’t familiar with her), making the character all her own, a blaze of charismatic personality with her child-like demand that her every pleasure be met and her boisterous sense of self and song.

From her earliest days growing up in a brothel to being forced into her father’s failing streetside theatre act, Piaf was a tragic figure. The theory that all art is born of suffering is given wide reign, showing us circumstances kids all over Europe were subjected to of broken homes, itinerant childhoods and strange role models.

All that stood Piaf apart was remembering the songs her childhood companions sung while at work or waiting to service clients, and when her father tells her to do something to bring in crowds, Edith Piaf the singer is born.

The story is neither linear nor easy to follow, and some people won’t like a storyline that seems to swing between episodes and leave long and important swaths out of Piaf’s life, and like the real woman who’s live dissolved into excess, there’s no happy ending on offer.

I hate musicals, and even I found it hard not to get caught up in the pure strength of Piaf’s voice and character. Like in few other biopics, Cottilard makes us forget we’re watching an actress, and her Oscar was entirely deserved.

The camerawork and direction is as rich and lush as Piaf herself. The word of early France that follows her everywhere is rouge-tinged like the lipstick of a Montemarte can can dancer, and the camera wheels and flies around sets like an observer just trying to keep up with the chaotic life she led.

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