However, the end result was the same. As I huddled in the girls’ bathroom afterwards attempting, to no avail, to dry my eyes, I noticed everyone’s eyes were shining, even if it wasn’t with emotional weakness.
Olivier Dahan’s La Vie en Rose is an immaculate creation of something majestic, born out of a gut reaction as all great works tend to be. What began from a single bookstore photograph that captured something sincere and previously untapped in young French icon Piaf led to an overwhelming intimate portrait of a true artist and her complete consumption by her craft.
While facts are easy to find and the chronology of a life simple to reconstruct, it’s nearly impossible to reach out and touch a stoic and mysterious pillar of national culture as singer Piaf. Somehow La Vie en Rose does the impossible, as it embraces Piaf’s explosive emotive state that is often overran with glamorous myths or historical facts.
Dahan teaches us Piaf’s life was in fact not glamorous, but gritty and tormented. She may have had her share of celebrity lovers and excessive parties, but her heart was shattered and her body decayed.
This film is not about establishing her as part of an environment, but rather the inescapable need to sing for her soul and her life, a need that eventually devoured Piaf alive.
“The narrative had to be impressionist, not linear,” Dahan states, in his no nonsense voice, confident with impeccable creative instincts.
La Vie en Rose is constructed in a manner reflecting Piaf’s stream of consciousness, jumping from her childhood bout with blindness, life in a brothel and travels with her father’s circus, to scenes of teenage drunkenness, street corner singing and drug-ridden, crippling old age. Narrative progression of the film is therefore infused with emotion, as the selected biographical events are chosen not to build a portrait of Piaf’s life, but rather gather the pieces of her enigmatic person.
“No writing, only reading and rest,” Dahan pleads, exhausted and slightly feverish, in the wake of his recent intellectual and emotional marathon. It’s not often a film gets to touch a life so closely as La Vie en Rose did, as they shot Piaf’s final scene in the Olympia concert hall in Paris, the actual location of her final performance.
The charged energy on set created a community of heightened senses, for no one more than Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose's own Edith Piaf.
“I lived an emotional adventure and am glad people can share the emotion and understand,” Cotillard states, with the modesty that overtakes her exquisitely unpretentious large smile and petite frame.
Cotillard’s overwhelming beauty and naturally sweet nature seem impossible to mute, but her robust submersion in Edith Piaf make even Piaf’s most stubborn and unattractive moments ring true. Cotillard heard whisperings of the film a year prior to its conception.
“I dreamed of a character smaller than this,” Cotillard confesses, attacking her role with the same unrelenting hunger as Dahan did his directing. You might recognize Cotillard from Big Fish or A Good Year, but not even French film Love Me If You Dare allowed Cotillard the dramatic space to demonstrate her enormous capacities.
The physical challenges of playing an old decrepit woman, organs failing but mind flourishing, were magnified by the hours and layers of prosthetics, latex and acrylic on Cotillard’s body and face. She needed it, too; as even the industry’s greatest tricks battled to conceal her natural irrepressible charm that makes you want to be her best friend. Being or imitating Piaf was never Cotillard’s goal, as she worked to harmoniously forge a bond with the French icon and create an entirely new manifestation of Piaf.
Where do you go when you exceed your own greatest expectations? To America, according to Cotillard and her hopes of working with a spectrum of proficient American filmmakers in the future. I don’t think we deserve her, but after La Vie En Rose, there’s no doubt she will be welcomed with open arms.
La Vie En Rose releases in select theaters June 8.