Olivier Dahan’s La vie en rose (also known as La Môme) is a collection of biographical showpieces about dwarfy Edith Piaf and compelling for the reason Love in the Time of Cholera isn’t—the makeup. Covering 50% of Marion Cotillard’s portrayal, the Oscar-winning cosmetics by Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibold are not only persuasive in getting us to accept her as Piaf, they’re also marvels of transitions: it’s impossible not to believe she’s on her death bed at only 47. 25% of the performance is in the lip-synching of songs; 25% in the sound design augmenting them; 25 % in synchronizing the elements to make a virtuoso form of synthesis. (The only singing Cotillard does in her own voice is “Frou Frou.”) In the remaining 25% of the tribute, it’s Piaf coming back for a return engagement to revel in her drama queen life. And likely the cause of trouble for diehards who’ve walked out on the movie. Some scenes do have an “Oh, God, wait’ll you hear what she did last night!” lowdown about them and therefore difficult to sort the factual from the overbearing dramatic license. Throwing coins at her destitute drunk of a mother in a small café, Cotillard’s Edith has the moral right to spit anger yet she’s too eager to escalate the humiliation. A willful capriciousness throughout: this movie diva, resembling a bug-eyed emotional retard out of a Margaret Keane caricature, really enjoys pulling one number after another. The big eruption happens in Piaf’s apartment when she learns the fate of her lover, the married Marcel (injected with attractive studliness by Jean-Pierre Martins). The sequence has the fulsome theatrics of a long uninterrupted tracking shot, capturing the high of idyllic love, next the low of sudden tragedy, then to the embrace of a loving audience providing a fix for pain; as soap aria, it’s consummate trash. La vie is a non-linear approach to what is a sketchy bio: the flashbacks and flash forwards tend to confuse a sense of the timing and who the participants are in events. And at 140 minutes not every lover or factoid could be included. Yves Montand, for instance, is all but ignored, though his stepdaughter Catherine Allégret, who has the ravaged face and physique of her mother Simone Signoret, plays Piaf’s grandmother Louise. 

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2009 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.