Best French Films - Cinéma Saturday - La Vie en Rose
The D-Day commemoration weekend last weekend delayed our Ciné adventures, but here we are back again with a dramatic bio-pic full of outstanding performances, amazing hair, makeup and costumes, and of course, classic French songs. The sound of romance, struggle, French culture and hope in post-war France, Édith Piaf's remarkable voice still gives so much to audiences today. Do you know about her dramatic, sometimes erratic life?
This week's film is La Vie en Rose / La Môme directed by Olivier Dahan and starring an incomparable Marion Cotillard.
Cast & Crew
Director: Olivier Dahan
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Gérard Depardieu,Pascal Greggory, Jean-Pierre Martins, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Paul Rouve, Clotilde Courau
Screenplay: Olivier Dahan and Isabelle Sobelmann
Cinematographer: Tetsuo Nagata
Costume Designer: Marit Allen
Producer: Alain Goldman
Genre: Romantic period drama and biographical musical drama
Awards & Accolades: Almost too many to mention! This is a highly critically acclaimed film, which was also loved by audiences, with over 5M admissions in France alone. For a complete list of awards and nominations, see TF1's page here. Golden Globes 2008: Winner for Best Actress Marion Cotillard. Cesar Awards: 5 awards and 6 nominations including wins for Best Actress - Marion Cotillard; Best Production Design; Best Photography;Best Costume Design;Best Sound. Nominations: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor - Pascal Greggory,Best Supporting Actress - Sylvie Testud, Best Film, Best Writing (Original) and Best Editing. Academy Awards 2008: Oscar for Best Actress - Marion Cotillard, Best Make Up (and a Nomination for the Best Costume Design.) BAFTA awards Best Actress, Best Music, Best Costumes and Best Make up and Hair Design.
From the slums of Paris to the limelight of New York, Edith Piaf’s life was a battle to sing and survive, live and love. Raised in poverty, Edith’s magical voice and her passionate romances and friendships with the greatest names of the period -Yves Montand, Jean Cocteau, Charles Aznavour, Marlene Dietrich, Marcel Cerdan and others- made her a star all around the world. But in her audacious attempt to tame her tragic destiny, the Little Sparrow - her nickname - flew so high she could not fail to burn her wings.
What I liked about this film
There are some roles which just seem to me made for certain actors. Or perhaps there are certain actors who are just made to play particular figures in history. Whichever way you look at it, Cotillard's performance in this film is outstanding and has an almost mesmeric perfection in every scene. At no point is the audience thinking about what a great job she's doing of imitating Piaf, she just IS Piaf. That's how good this performance is. It makes this film unmissable and so much more than just a bio-pic.
Whether you are familiar with the stories of Piaf's life and her difficult childhood, poverty and street singing beginnings or you just know her name, this film can be immensely enjoyable as there is a great story, wonderful zipping between the "present" of the 1960s and her past with a tight cast of characters. If you love classic chansons, this film is for you! Little stories about how songs were written for her to sing, how she worked on developing her singing and expression are just so fascinating.
So with all of that, I had to include this film in a Cinéma Saturday blog post. This film incorporates lots of what Francophiles love about France: history, music and culture. (It's a fabulous film for anyone not so in love with France too.) Piaf defined a kind of hope and courage so needed during WWII and she rose to immense fame and popularity the world over.
We follow Édith in early childhood and get to see the poverty and remarkable situations in which she grew up, often being dramatically abandoned or dramatically taken away, she seems to have suffered a great deal. Such was the case for so many people at that time who lived in abject poverty, following WWI, in situations and conditions which today seem as alien as medieval medicine. She grew up in a bordello, was blinded by keratitis for several years of her childhood and then abruptly taken off on tour around France with her acrobat father. Estranged from her mother, and to suffer her own losses of child, lovers and friends, Piaf's life is like an embellished dramatic fiction, except that it just isn't! Thus the makings of a dramatic and very affecting film were forged in her experience and Dahan makes a beautiful film which deals with these events very well. Each era is very well realised from her birth in 1915 to her death in 1963, we see both the poverty-stricken Piaf and the excess-driven chanteuse starring in her top billing in Paris and New York, with everything in between. From immense highs to heartbreaking lows, this films really gives you these points in Piaf's life and takes you along for the journey. It's immersive through its careful execution, production design and costumes and Cotillard's remarkable performance.
As the audience we find the story involving and interesting, but we are captivated by Cotillard's Piaf, just as I imagine we might have been with the real little sparrow/ little kid (la môme in French is often translated as either the sparrow or the kid). For Cotillard, she learnt the Piaf songs and lip-synced to perfection. She was immersed too, just as the duainece is. Of course that is also difficult to move on from, as an actor. Cotillard immersed herself completely in Piaf's life, her gravelly voice, with shaved eyebrows and high hairline and contorting herself into looking Piaf's diminutive height. She has famously described how hard it was to let go of Piaf after the filming had finished, quoted in The Guardian:
After the shoot wrapped, Cotillard says she continued to be haunted by Piaf, sometimes speaking in her gravelly voice. Piaf stayed with her for a total of eight months. “I tried everything,” Cotillard tells me. “I did exorcisms with salt and fire. I travelled to Bora Bora to escape her. I went to Peru to Machu Picchu and did ancient shamanic ceremonies to cleanse myself after I eventually realised why I couldn’t let her go. She had been abandoned as a child. Her greatest fear was to be alone.”
Living in that 'darkness' of the creative process where you have lost yourself in someone else's life gives us the magic we see on film. So as difficult as it was for Cotillard, we have to be glad she did all the work she did as this performance is completely unforgettable!
Let yourself be immersed in early twentieth century France (and the USA) along with one of the most recognisable soundtracks you'll ever hear, full as it is with Piaf's world-famous hits including La Vie en Rose, Je ne regrette rien, Milord, Hymne à l'amour and many more. Recognised finally for her single La Vie en Rose (1945) and inducted into the Grammys Hall of Fame in 1998, Piaf has always been special, revered in France and became famous worldwide. As time goes on and the centenary of her birth was celebrated in 2015, if a little more muted than previous celebrations, Piaf deserves to be remembered still. The classics are sometimes forgotten in the noise and clamour of contemporary life.
Singing with so much feeling and emotion, she has an ability to carry you along with her, just like Dahan does in this film. Let yourself be taken away into a different time, with the beautiful music of Piaf. A remarkable woman who lived an incredible life, sadly shortened by liver cancer, she died in 1963. Given the high honour of the French flag over her coffin, she is buried in Père-Lachaise, where over 500,000 people lined the route of the funeral cortège to the cemetery, where another 40,000 people came to pay their respects to the singer who died aged 47. It is said that Jean Cocteau said , "Ah, la Piaf est morte," ... "Je peux mourir aussi." [Ah, Piaf's dead. I can die too. "] And then he promptly died of a heart attack.(The Guardian)
Probably the greatest French singer of all time, Piaf was a star that shone brightly in the sky and continues to do so through her musical legacy.
Where to Find It
Handy links are provided here for easy reference - just click on the images. (clicking will show the product in your Amazon region, affiliate links are marked with*)
"Best of" album (remastered)*
If you're inspired to explore more about Édith Piaf and classic French chansons, you might like these Spotify playlists and albums:
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Have you seen this film? Did you like it? Let me know what you thought by email: hello at francewhereyouare dot com or over on social media.
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