Tuesday, December 04, 2007

La Vie en Rose

La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan, 2007) [6]

Haven't we had enough of musical biopics with their protagonists overcoming personal demons and tragedy to achieve stardom? I would expected a little bit more with a film about French singer Edith Piaf than pictures like Walk the Line and Ray but sadly, Dahan plays it just as safe and middlebrow as them. Formally, it is much more adventurous than the American films but the story still falls into the same formula that I've grown tired with. Everything gets covered in this film: Edith's poverty ravaged childhood with an itinerant parents, her childhood bout with sickness only to be "saved", her near miraculous discovery and her subsquent stardom only to be scarred with personal demons and tragedy. The one main difference for Piaf is that her career highs seem to come paired with something just as tragic. Louis Leplee, the man who discovered her, is murdered by people out of Edith's shady past. Her only true lover, boxer Marcel Cerdan, dies in a plane crash on his way to meet her. Morphine and alcohol dependency as well as arthritis and a car crash slowly cripple her body until she finally dies at the age of 48. This continuing undercurrent of inescapable tragedy is the real thematic core of the story and it is refreshing to see Dahan not shy away from it and try to end the film on a brighter note. This leads to the fractured narrative of the film, where Dahan uses Piaf's last few years as an anchor to be able to go back into the past and explore the deeper tragedies that shaped how Edith ended up much older than her years. A lot of review have called Dahan's jumbling of narrative a mess, which I just don't see. Are American filmgoers and critics reached a critical mass of stupidity that the use of the narrative device is so perplexing? It has a thematic resonance for the film and its really the film's strongest plus for me. Most every review raves about Marion Cotillards's performance but I'm less sold on it than them apparently. No matter how hard they may think they're not trying to mimic Piaf, Dahan and Cotillard are making a film about a real person and mimicry is almost impossible to avoid in re-creating a character. Cotillard's performance has a little too much showmanship and excessive emotion for my liking. I don't know that much about Edith Piaf but Cotillard's go for broke moments just aren't what I'm looking for. Still, her performance and the film are an admirable effort but this film gets too trapped in its conventions to get above mild approval.

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