Key to the impact of writer-director Olivier Dahan’s biopic La Vie en Rose is the mesmerising central performance by Marion Cotillard (Toi et moi, A Very Long Engagement) as Édith Piaf. Although Cotillard mimes Piaf’s songs from original recordings (a wise decision given Piaf’s unique voice) Cotillard nevertheless embodies the legendary and iconic French singer’s remoteness and vulnerability without shying away from her egomania and destructive tendencies.
Rather than being authentically biographical, La Vie en Rose contains an episodic, non-linear narrative to focus on key moments of emotional upheaval in Piaf’s life. Her upbringing in a brothel, life on the streets, tragic love life, alcohol and drug addictions and proneness to illness are constantly juxtaposed with her rise to fame, public adulation and power as a performer.
But despite the unconventional storytelling techniques, La Vie en Rose aims for mass appeal. It is a crowd-pleasing tale of triumph and woe, filled with all the classic songs that you would expect to hear in a film about Édith Piaf. But it is also compelling, emotionally satisfyingly and succeeds in portraying Piaf as somebody who may not have been very likeable but was nevertheless deserving of sympathy, respect, admiration and awe.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 283, 2007