Monday, August 6, 2007

La Môme/La Vie En Rose

Movie name: La Môme/La Vie en Rose
Year of release: 2007
Director: Olivier Dahan
Stars: Marion Cotillard, Emmanuelle Seigner, Pascal Gregory, Sylvie Testud, Gérard Depardieu, Clotilde Courau
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Olivier Dahan aims high in this biopic of French singer and legend Edith Piaf, however the results end up a bit short, save for the complete transformation of the actress Marion Cotillard whom when Oscar time comes, will certainly be a strong contender.

Biopics/Biographies are always a tricky subject matter for filmmakers, as I mentioned in the review for Camille Claudell. Respected filmmakers have approached the genre with varying levels of success, from the really great like “Camille Claudell” from Bruno Nuytten, “Van Gogh” from Maurice Pialat, to the good like “Walk the Line” from James Mangold, “Capote” from Bennett Miller to the “just there” examples of “Ray” from Taylor Hackford and “What’s Love Got to Do with it” from Brian Gilbert. These are films that usually showcase great performances from their main actors, who invariably are awarded numerous accolades (Oscar usually falls in their mantle, as it did earlier this year for Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker).
“La Môme” from Olivier Dahan, already one of the biggest hits of the year in France, follows the life and career trajectory of one of the country’s most beloved personalities, the unforgettable Edit Piaf, who died in 1963 at the tender age of 47. The film follows a structure that oscillates between the life of the older Edith and her progression since her humble beginnings. The film starts by introducing us to Edith currently on tour in America but rapidly changes it’s pace to her childhood. There we are introduced to Edith’s mother, also a singer who chooses to pursue her career and leave Edith with her father (meanwhile in the army). Edith’s father drops her with his mother, who is the owner of a brothel, where all the girls quickly embrace and protect Edith, particularly Titine who treats her as a daughter. When her father shows up for her, they end up working in a circus and the streets as street artists. That’s where Edith starts showcasing her voice, something that she continues doing, in neighborhoods of shady reputation (in the company of her friend Mômone). This street singing eventually gets her discovered by Louis Leplée who places her in his club and introduces her to a huge number of influential people. Edith becomes increasingly famous, also coming with it a dependency for narcotics and liquor that deteriorate her health more and more. Her failed relationships also take their toll on her life, and by the film’s end, we see a broken and precociously destroyed woman.
The film plays like many that have been seen before, very much in the lines of “A Star is Born”. It presents Edith as a woman of extraordinary talent that comes from the gutter, from a sordid past that never really left, no matter where she went. It also shows her as a woman that never really came to grips with whom she was in this new position, as an icon, as the voice from Paris (as Marlene Dietrich mentions). Olivier Dahan tries too hard to compress everything about the artist in the film, and that means sacrificing characters that suddenly disappear, characters that appear without any explanation, eventually creating a muddle that is quite confusing. The balancing structure between different time frames reinforces this tremendously – the film tries to chew on more than it can. The main actors do a fine job, with the highlight going to Marion Cotillard. There are several reviews already saying that her performance (and the one from Angelina Jolie in “A Mighty Heart”) is going to be amongst the ones for the Oscars of 2007. The performance is truly indelible in the sense that Cotillard mimics to perfection the singer (she mimics the singing also), capturing her energy, despair and joy. She manages to replicate the actions from Edith’s life since she was a young woman, to her illness and precocious aging (and the makeup helps tremendously). Gérard Depardieu turns in a solid supporting performance, as does Clotilde Courau, Emmanuelle Seigner and the wonderful Sylvie Testud whose character is dropped much too abruptly. The photography, and period reconstitution are all impeccable, as is Marion Cotillard’s performance, however these don’t save the film from it’s shortcomings.