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La Vie en Rose

Starring Marion Cotillard, Jil Aigrot, Cassandre Berger, Sylvie Testud
Screenplay by Olivier Dahan and Isabelle Sobelman
Based on the life of Edith Piaf
Directed by Olivier Dahan

IN SHORT: They'll love it in France. [Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, sexual content, brief nudity, language and thematic elements. 140 minutes]

In French, with subtitles

A bonne mademoiselle sidled up to me on the way out of the screening of La Vie en Rose and remarked, "Crummy, eh?" to which yours Cranky affirmed "Yep." She was referring to the life of chanteuse Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard; with singing by Jil Aigrot, though Piaf originals are used for recreated stage "performances") , and we were talking about this bioflick. That snarky comment will require further explanation -- and part two of this story will play out below. For those that don't know who she was, which we'd venture to guess is most Americans born after 1950 or so, Piaf was a major singing and performing star who made eight appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show -- same Sullivan as in the theater David Letterman performs in most nights -- and an iconic figure in her native France. We, born in the late '50s shouldn't know anything about the woman though, with a career in the radio end of the rock music business, we did. That fits in with our definition of "superstar," which is a personality you know even if it is from a field you don't pay any attention to.

La Vie en Rose, like many flawed bioflicks, starts with the assumption that you the audience already knows most of anything the film can relate about the major points of a life, and the supporting personalities. The Rolling Stones and the Brian Jones. Elvis and the Colonel. Sinatra and the mafia. Enough of that; Edith Piaf and misery went hand in hand from the first days after her birth, when she was abandoned by her mother, until the end of her life and death from cancer. In between there is a life in and out of circuses with her contortionist father, life in a brothel with her madame grandmother, poverty, begging, death, murder, fame and fortune and everything that goes with it, addiction and more death, both sudden and slow and lingering. All of it is structured in flashback form which can be tiring but, for the most part, isn't. Cheery stuff, though, it's not.

Granted, the young Piaf could have been turned out into prostitution -- she sang on the street instead, turning all begging earnings over to some guy with anger issues -- again, it is assumed you know. Save for the timely intervention of cabaret proprietor Louis Leplee (Gerard Depardieu), who nicknamed the young Piaf "The Little Sparrow" and essentially created a star, life for the kid could have been awful. There's an old saying about good intentions and it pays out for Leplee in spades, though exactly the why and what of the murderous events that transpire are lost in translation and a need to move on to the next "beat" in the biography.

Piaf drove all that potential misery into her songs, all mournful ditties of lost love (or even worse, love never found). We're sure the plentitude of songs performed in the film (with Piaf's real voice in the soundtrack) fairly represent all the hits that topped the charts in her native France, which is the main reason why the film will not work here. Despite beautiful cinematography, we found our self fighting to read subtitles while trying to glean something out of the songs which, at least of those that made the film, all sound alike.

Add to that the reality that, even when good things happened to Piaf, the effect was temporary and topped by something terrible. Sitting through La Vie en Rose,we found our sympathetic urges starting to numb. What would normally be the positive aspects of her life are held back until the very end of the film -- which means we won't even hint at what they were, save to say that happiness is fleeting and you should reread the first sentence of this paragraph. It all becomes too darn much to sit through.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to La Vie en Rose, he would have paid . . .


Those that know some of the real story are no doubt wondering about one major, life altering event that spun Piaf's life off kilter for years. We don't want to spoil all the surprises and that particular set of events, coming about half way through the film were gripping enough to keep us planted in our seat until the final credits roll. Those that can see the big screen version on a cheap ticket should do so -- sit close to read the subtitles. Else, wait and rent.

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