Of late, musical biographies make popular films especially when they dish out anecdotes on the various ups and downs in the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and especially so when the music they play and the songs they sing happen to be evergreen classics, or at least those which you've probably heard before at one point in time. In recent years, Walk the Line and Ray have also garnered popular film awards, and not to mention raised the profiles of the stars like Joaquin Phoenix and Jamie Foxx respectively who played the musical legends.
Unfortunately, La Vie En Rose was a little difficult to find a connection with, for shallow people like me. Edith Piaf was one of France's most famous singers, which no doubt counted towards the success of the movie when it premiered in France. But for the *ahem* younger generation that I belong to, the songs only sound remotely familiar. I'll be more in tune if you ask me about Alizee, but Edith Piaf, it's a different era altogether. However, that does not mean that the movie cannot be enjoyed, as it opens up your eyes (and ears) to a whole new musical world out there.
Played by Marion Cotillard, you might do a double take because gone is that va-va-vroom lover opposite Russell Crowe in A Good Year, and in place, a transformed figure as the legendary singer. The movie traces the life of Edith Piaf, as a young child abandoned by her parents to live in a brothel, to surviving in the streets performing with her dad, and to life as a singing busker until she's discovered, and makes the stage her world. And as we bear witness to her tumultuous life, Cotillard becomes surprisingly chameleon like, thanks to the wonderful makeup, and her nuance performance as a character who has her periodic mood swings, shooting insults off the cuff, while maintaining her feisty selfishness to have things go her way.
It's a biography that covered a wide spectrum, ambitiously wanting to cover all ground from her addiction to her career to her luckless in love romantic life, and at most times, seem scattered and all over the place. Characters get introduced and flit in and out of the narrative with nary a proper introduction, and those unfamiliar with her story, will find it a tad frustrating. Her brush with the Hollywood legends like Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplin only gets mentioned in passing (no big name cameos here, unlike that which was found in Scorsese's The Aviator), and only Marlene Dietrich got a one minute screentime to whet what possibly could come (and not). The narrative structure too enhances your suffering by wanting to be unconventional and adopted the fractured timeline, but too much going backwards-forwards-sideways, sometimes opting to time stamp, while others tried feebly to fade in using artifacts, failed miserably. I believe that should it chose to be more conventional, and stuck to the boring chronological timeline in telling the story, it would have made even more fans for those unfamiliar with the legend.
However, one thing's for sure, the songs in those days are lovely, par none. No technical pyrotechnics to jazz up and disguise a weak singer voice so possessed by many wannabes these days, singers from the era have just the music, meaningful lyrics, a microphone and a powerful voice to please fans and win over new ones. For me however, I'll stick to Alizee, thank you very much.
For those who would like a primer of Edith Piaf before watching the movie, you can click on this Wikipedia link to find out more. Spoilers alert though as it details almost everything the movie covered as well, but my opinion is that for those who are unfamiliar with the legend, do yourself this favour and you might enjoy the movie a lot more as you can follow the major events through.