Year of Release: 2007 Directed by Olivier Dahan. Starring Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Emmanuelle Seigner, Gerard Depardieu, and Jean-Pierre Martins.
The life of Edith Piaf is an ambitious topic for a single movie. It is one that French director Olivier Dahan handles with mixed results. The strongest asset of the film is Marion Cotillard’s stunning, pitch-perfect, well-deserved Academy Award winning performance as French singer Edith Piaf. Cotillard completely captivates the viewer, drawing him into the film, Piaf’s struggles, triumphs, and downfalls. Her performance is empathetic and engages the viewer. When she screams against her injustices, one pities Piaf. When she her career flourishes and triumphs, one feels a sense of relief and excitement for her and is glad she overcame her tentativeness. All of Piaf’s actions and emotions: her arrogance, insecurity, excitement, regret, and joy are believable and portrayed with aplomb by Cotillard, who quickly shifts from one mood to another as Piaf becomes increasingly unstable.
The film’s only major drawback is that at two hours and twenty minutes, it is overlong. The first hour enraptures the viewer, but then the middle act of the film dwells too long on Piaf’s instability, and it also introduces new plot points that are not given enough time to be fully developed and related to the story. Near the end, Piaf recalls a momentous earlier incidence in her life, which no one would see coming, and then this tragic, possibly life altering occurrence is set aside and forgotten. The film would have been much stronger had a few of these story threads been tied up a little tighter. A clearer story arch would have also helped shape the storyline. Albeit, the most important climax does occur right before the film’s end, but there are several big climactic moments earlier in the film that seem to indicate that the end of the film is approaching. As a result, what immediately follows these climactic moments is often anticlimactic.
There are two simultaneous storylines throughout the film. The film opens in 1959 with an aging Edith Piaf performing in front of a packed house. She collapses and is taken to the hospital. After this, the film cuts to 1918 when Piaf was a young girl. The film casually cuts between these two storylines until Piaf’s childhood merges with the opening performance, which occurs when the opening storyline ends with Piaf’s death. I greatly appreciated this approach. It captured the fluctuating moods of Piaf and the ups and downs of her career. In addition, this method of filming clearly related events of her childhood to her decisions and actions later in life.
Another aspect of the film that I appreciated was the clear religious content. Prayer is respected and a natural part of life. Whenever a tragedy threatens someone, the first response is to turn to God or one of the saints in prayer. Even when characters are in the midst of despair or committing a grievous sin, God is still foremost in their thoughts, and they ask for His guidance. Even when they believe He is blessing their poor decisions, it is still nice to see characters acknowledging God’s presence.
The title of the film roughly translates, “The Life in Pink.” Edith Piaf’s life was certainly tinted pink, meaning that everything was overshadowed by the glamour of performing. She was raised in a brothel where she saw women perform for their customers. She became caught up in the fame of performing and other fantasies, which nearly destroyed her when she learned they were false. There was an early blessing, where St. Therese of Liseux cured her of near blindness, which gave Piaf a lifelong devotion to St. Therese, which influences Piaf’s life. However, the glamour of performing ultimately takes front seat to religious devotion for most of her life.
The final song that Piaf learns and performs is “Non, je ne regrette rien,” which translates, “No, I Regret Nothing.” At the end of her life, Piaf will face what she’s done and failed to do without regrets. She will live in the present and prepare for death. Even after her poor choices and the tragedies she has suffered, she will do her best to focus on the present. She knows it is time for her to move on from this life. Her devotion to St. Therese may have helped her after all.
Content Advisory: Fleeting nudity, implied sexual content, drug abuse, and some rough language. MPAA rating: PG-13
Suggested Audience: Adults.
Personal Recommendation: B