'La Vie En Rose' is a powerful tribute to French chanteuse Edith Piaf, whose life was beset by tragedy.
Writer-director Olivier Dahan concentrates on specific moments in Piaf's life, rather than giving the audience an overview of her career and loves. It is more an impressionistic portrait, revealing only the most important parts.
Marion Cotillard plays Piaf, from a fiery young woman busking on the streets of Montmartre, to a frail, bedridden 47-year-old. Cotillard embraces the role fully, showing her vulnerability, spark and ferociousness masterfully. Her physical likeness to the singer is uncanny, and Cotillard shows both Piaf's inherent awkwardness as well as her confident onstage presence.
Born in Belleville, Paris, Piaf's early years were spent in abject poverty. The daughter of a street singer and circus contortionist, she was left in the care of her grandmother, who ran a brothel in Normandy.
She was discovered in 1935 by nightclub owner Louis Leplée (Depardieu), who nicknamed her 'La Môme Piaf' ('The Sparrow Kid') due to her nervousness and diminutive height. Her life underwent momentous change as she was propelled into the spotlight and a glamorous existence.
Her relationship with married boxing champ Marcel Cerdan (Martins) is central to the film. Although Piaf was to love others after Cerdan, none were to come close, and she was devastated after his death in an air crash in 1949. Shortly afterwards, in 1951, she was in a car crash, and subsequently became addicted to morphine. Her lifelong battle with alcoholism and drugs is portrayed with sadness and sensitivity.
The plot unfolds in a non-linear fashion, cutting between her childhood as a street urchin, to her glamorous years performing in New York concert halls, to her sickly last years. This narrative technique, as well as the powerful soundtrack, gives the film an almost dizzying feel. Some original recordings are featured in the film, including 'La Vie En Rose', 'Hymne à L'Amour' and 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien'. There is no substitute for her haunting and unique voice, and it forms the soul of the film. The lyrics and delivery of her songs resonate with the story being told, as they mirror her often turbulent personal life.
At the end, they are particularly poignant, as the scene cuts between a wan, bedridden Piaf and her last performance singing 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien' with startling emotion.
Edith Piaf lived her life with passion and undying enthusiasm. She was quick witted, fiery, self-destructive and above all, a star. This film is a beautiful celebration of a performer whose voice embodies the spirit of Paris.