Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"La Vie En Rose" with Marion Cotillard (2007)

Marion Cotillard gives a truly outstanding performance in this film about the life of Edith Piaf, the legendary French “street singer” who became one of the world’s most well-known peformers, and a symbol of France itself.  Edith Piaf was born to a life on the edges of the society in which she lived. She was the child of a mother who thought of herself as a great artist; but was a hopeless alcoholic; and a father who struggled with demons of his own, though he did his best to raise her.

It was while performing in the street one day that he got the idea of using his daughter as a means of increasing the meager “tips” he was receiving for his street act, which consisted of his talents as a contortionist and some other tricks. But when little Edith opened her mouth to sing, it seemed as if the angels had given voice to his child. And so began one of the most fascinating, and sad, careers in show business history.

The film is stunningly filmed, with all of the grit and glamour of pre-war Paris veritably leaping from the screen. When Edith meets Louis Leplée, played by Gérard Depardieu, she falls in love with this determined man, who helps her discover how to present her voice on stage rather than in the streets. More than anyone else, he was the man most responsible for making her one of the world's most beloved stars.

With great sensitivity the film manages to convey the pain, hardships, addictions and love; all of which combined to make Edith Piaf the tragic star she was destined to be. Her alcoholism and dependence upon morphine are handled with gentleness instead of sensationalism. This was a woman who was in both physical and emotional pain which even all the drugs and alcohol could never erase. Yet, through it all, she always kept that remarkable voice.

The film is basically told as a flashback from 1963, when Ms. Piaf is recovering from illness and planning a comeback at age 48. She never made it. The pain which caused her to fall from grace finally caught up to “the Little Sparrow.”

Edith Piaf was actually named Édith Giovanna Gassion when she was born in 1915, named for a British nurse, Edith Cavell, who was serving in the First World War before the entry of the Americans in 1917. She was executed for helping the French POW’s escape their German captors.

By the time she was 14, she had lived in a brothel with her grandmother before being reunited with her father. In the opening years of the Great Depression she began her street performances before being discovered by Louis Leplée in 1935. This meeting would change her life, but nothing could change, or erase the pain of her past, which included the death of her infant daughter Marcelle, who died of meningitis at the age of 2, when Edith was only 19. This tragedy would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Louis Leplée, owned the club Le Gerny off the Champs-Élysées, and it was there that he first presented her to Paris. She was small and petit, and full of energy, which earned her the nickname “The Little Sparrow”, a name which would stay with her for her entire career.

My own first recollection of Ms. Piaf is from about the age of 3 or 4, while playing with my parent’s extensive record collection. There was one record which I would play over and over again, and was probably the first foreign language record I ever heard. It was “La Vie en Rose”, which is still one of my favorite recordings today. Of all the recorded versions of that song I am particularly drawn to the one by Louis Armstrong, with its plaintive coronet and beautiful translation of the French lyrics. I have posted both versions of the song here before. That post is at;

And here is another clip from You Tube showcasing the various artists over the years who have recorded this song.

But of all the newer versions of this song, the one by Mireille Mathieu rings the truest for me. It is comparable, in my mind, to the performance by Beyoncé of Etta James’ recording of the song “At Last”, in the film Cadillac Records. It is that good.

And, finally, here is Edith Piaf, herself, performing her signature song live, and which will always have a place in my heart.

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