The only motivation I had to watch La Vie En Rose was Marion Cotillard. The beautiful and poised Cotillard in A Good Year won an Oscar for La Vie En Rose. After watching this French film, I am truly convinced that Hollywood is probably only a lucrative pass time for brilliant non English artists, for the talents and passion of artists such as Cotillard are stoked in their regional land and shimmer in the lights of their culture.
La Vie En Rose is a biopic of legendary French singer Edith Piaf, spanning the 1920s across the 1960s. It candidly presents the Paris in those days, showing the parts of Paris sans the towering phallus. I was completely unaware of Piaf until I saw the movie. However, the film was successful in crossing the walls of ignorance and presenting Piaf as she was.
Several directorial surprises elevate the film to a surreal level. The Little Sparrow (Piaf means Sparrow in French) comes on stage, looking frail and scared. She begins to sing, the piano releases caressing notes, and the camera soon shifts from Piaf to the rapt audience. The audience - stiff during her first performance, loosens up, responds, interacts and eventually falls in love with this tiny and bold sparrow. One can’t help but remember Vahida Rehman in The Guide. Rosy begins her on stage career, ascends the legendary echelon, adorned by the critics and the commoners alike. Vahida remains the focal point of this sequence. However, in La vie..as we are expecting to witness a similar representation of Piaf’s success, we are stupefied by this alternate expression. The Audience Index becomes the central force through which one extrapolates Piaf’s success journey.
Another such astounding sequence leaves one shaken is when Edith mourns and screams her lover’s death, singing a heart wrenching verse walking out of the room, only to emerge on stage with that very song. The theatrical experience which this sequence invokes makes one feel terribly sad and the sense of loss grips and twitches at places one wouldn’t want.
The soul of the film is its songs. They are all in French, and again, surprisingly without sub titles. The reason I call this film a “pure” theatrical experience is because, as a friend Smriti rightfully puts it, the songs are not translated and transported to a jumble of words. The songs are meant to be in French, to be savoured as they are and not warped by translation, for the scripting and direction is extremely strong to deliver the essence without the meaning. Because there are no subtitles obstructing the visual experience, one can appreciate the sound and the cinematic beauty. Songs undoubtedly reach our core, delight as well as sadden us.
The tight screenplay of the film makes it a quintessential biopic. The non linearity of the film gives a collage of Edith’s life, the 1930s and 1960s Paris flashing back and forth with suaveness. The known bits and pieces of Edith’s life mingle deliciously with the fictional figments. Paris is sketched beautifully, with the backdrop of the shady pubs and grand hotels, dark alleys, cathouses, flowing champagne, the Mob and women in drag. A Marlene Dietrich makes a surprise entry, almost floating in air, whispering words of appreciation putting Edith in extreme awe; another superb stroke of a possible fiction.
Marion Cotillard fills life in this beautiful landscape of sound. Edith’s body language, her bent neck, hands on hips and loud voice marks her persona which Marion handles with absolute panache. There are a couple of instances in the film, wherein Marion sings through her eyes; once when her lover admires her beautiful hands, and secondly, when Marlene compliments her. Marion portrays a bold, rash, drunkard and passionate Edith with grace of a ballet dancer. She has done a terrific job in building imagery of an arthritic Edith as much as presenting a young and aggressive Edith.
The film revolves around the 2 poles of Edith’s life; her penchant to perform and loss in multiple forms which she faces with indomitable spirit. Loss of her Daddy Leplee – her mentor, her mother, her daughter, her lover, her best friend, eventually her ability to sing.
The film runs for two hours and twenty minutes, growing on us with every instance, leaving us absolutely stunned and blank at times with its ingenious crafting. This film is like a “box of chocolates”, one wouldn’t know what a second viewing might bring to the fore; hitherto unseen places and unfelt emotions for sure.