This movie isn’t so much a story about Edith Piaf, it was hardly a movie in any conventional sense of the word. It was more of a meditation, a remembering. If you can imagine one of the greatest singers of all time on her death bed, crippled, virtually alone and suddenly remembering everything from her life, just as Charles Foster Kane’s tragic life was given to us, only it comes without an interviewer or narration and it is revealed to us in starts and fits, jumping around wildly, seeing everything without a filter, all the goods and the bads, the rights and wrongs. Like a song it is alive, it flows and tells. “La Vie en Rose” is Edith Piaf’s soul bared naked before the audience.
And it’s a soul you don’t necessarily fall in love with, but to talk further about that I feel I must talk about the shining center. It seems to be the “in thing” to say right now “Marrion Cotillard is brilliant, but the movie isn’t as good.” It’s true Marrion Cotillard is beyond brilliant as Edith Piaf, as an actor, without hesitation and every moment she bares her own soul, and makes almost every performance I can think of look pale in comparison. With a single look her doe-like eyes that peer upward, mouth curled in a meek smile, her teeth jutting out slightly, she breaks your heart. She embodies everything about Piaf, at every age…from a brash and raucous 20-year old singing in bars that can barely survive, to a boisterously obnoxious diva at the height of her career (the type of person you would notice from your own dinner table and be annoyed with), to a withering 47-year-old with liver cancer who had lost more than her fair share, all you ever see is Piaf, all you ever hear is Piaf. It is only fitting to cast someone as passionately involved in their character as Piaf was in her music. I was astonished to see a picture of Cotillard in the new issue of Fade In, she looks absolutely nothing like the character she plays. Without her performance the film itself would not thrive as it does.