La Vie en Rose (2007)
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Paul Rouve, Gérard Depardieu, Clotilde Courau, Jean-Pierre Martins
Directed by: Olivier Dahan
Figuring this obvious Oscar-bait both for star Marion Cotillard and in the foreign language category, La Vie en Rose sat on my to-see list throughout the summer (where it stayed for a surprisingly long time at the art house theatre, mostly as a weekend matinee for the old folks). But there was always something else to see, and when it eventually worked its way to the top of list, I probably just decided to either not go to a movie that weekend, or just go see The Bourne Ultimatum again. By the time it was released to DVD, I figured I’d wait and see whether it would actually get Oscar nominations before I submitted myself to this Edith Piaf biopic that was met with lukewarm critical response.
The first positive sign was that France submitted Persepolis instead of this as their entry for Best Foreign Language film. So now I only had to hope that the Academy couldn’t bring themselves to nominate a French actress and I was in the clear. Sadly, they went ahead and nominated Cotillard, throwing in Best Makeup and Best Costume Design nominations as well, meaning that I would indeed have to see a biopic of a singer I mostly know from one scene in Saving Private Ryan (because I’m obsessive like that).
After watching it, it’s easy to see why the Academy chose the 32-year-old actress for nomination, and in fact, I could easily see her winning the award. Not because she deserves it at all, I found her performance, along with the entire film, to be rather terrible. Instead, it’s easy to see why she got a nomination because it’s a perfect example of the Jon Lovitz-style “ACTING” that a certain segment of movie-goers eat up, no matter how exaggerated and showy it is. Cotillard plays to the last seat in the theatre with every bit of scenery-chewing and flailing tick as she impersonates the famous singer over the course of several decades (in terms of character time. The movie, at 140 minutes, only feels like the course of several decades).
She gets no bonus points for singing, as the musical portions of the film are lip-synched. To be fair, Piaf had one of the most accomplished voices in the history of music, so it would be asking too much of any actor to try and replicate it. Still, there are times when the movie suffers a bit as a result, with scenes of Piaf busking outdoors sounding like they take place in a recording studio, or when she is supposedly learning how to better intone her songs… but already sounds perfectly fine. So no Sound Editing Oscars for you!
As for the film itself, it’s a run-of-the-mill rise-and-fall pop star biopic that we’ve seen several times already, this time with WWII French flavour. The movie swells with hopeless melodrama, flailing from overwrought memories of Piaf’s wretched childhood to unintentionally hilarious moments of drunken degradation of Piaf’s later years. Cotillard plays Piaf’s alcoholism as some weird cross between Parkinson’s and diva-posturing, making it all but impossible to empathise with the character no matter how horrible her life had been. The whole thing is melodramatic to the point of ridiculousness, but it keeps piling on until the very end, long after I ceased to care.
For those interested, the costume design is standard period piece garb, and the makeup used to age Cotillard is about as subtle as her acting. You get the sense that were this movie not French, and not about a musical idol of older Academy members, this wouldn’t have even registered with anyone. Personally, I found it rather comparable to Factory Girl, the rightfully-ignored biopic of Edie Sedgwick. As it is, I’m convinced that had France chosen to submit it, it’d would’ve been a contender for Best Foreign Language Film honours as well (which is not a compliment to the film or the Academy). But for the rest of us, there’s really no reason to engage this overlong, overwrought, been-there-done-that biopic unless you happen to be a big fan of Edith Piaf, but if that’s the case, I’m gonna wager that you’re too old to know how to work the internet, and thus are probably not reading this review.