The fact that Olivier Dahan
's lengthy retread into the life of French chanteuse Edith Piaf has subtitles shouldn't distract you from what's going on. La Vie En Rose, though more stylish in a half-assed, Jeunet-aping sort of way, carbon-copies the DNA of Hollywood musician biopics Ray and Walk the Line and, for better or worse, becomes another in a long line of over-hyped cinematic biographies.
Played by the radiant Marion Cotillard
, Piaf rose to stardom as France's most infamous and celebrated singer. Her inebriated bravado and playful demeanor only enlivened her fluid, stunning voice, creating some of the most entertaining and dynamic live performances ever given by a solo vocalist. Rising up with her best friend Momone (a solid Sylvie Testud
), Piaf was saved from a youth spent being raised in a bordello when her father couldn't keep things together. Singing on the street, Piaf was finally found by club owner Louis Leplee (the reliably great Gerard Depardieu
). From there, Piaf furthered her talents and eventually became the great singer we now know her as. Article continues below
Of course, the life gets bogged down by flights of over-dramatized tragedy: the death of a loved one, a crappy childhood, and even a foray into serious drugs coupled with a loyal love of alcohol. In this case, Dahan's choppy timeline, at first refreshing and engaging, eventually wears out its artfulness and makes for a sloppy assemblage. Bathed in dark, tangent shades, the look of the film keeps your eyes open but the camerawork hits merely acceptable.
The good news is that, much like the aforementioned films, the acting here couldn't be more loyal. Even better, Cotillard's bombastic performance avoids the high mimicry that other films seem to celebrate. Cotillard sinks herself into Piaf like a hot bath after a long hangover, hiding her luminous visage under a pair of buck-teeth and haggard make-up. Roles in A Very Long Engagement, Big Fish, and A Good Year have shown Cotillard as an extremely seductive, electrifying force even when she isn't given enough screen time. If anything, La Vie En Rose should secure her some more interesting roles.
Like a swig of blood-red wine, La Vie En Rose causes moments of distilled classiness and a drunken sense of purpose with just the hint of lust. Although, Dahan's goal of finding a person whose life and art are inseparable, as he admittedly hopes Rose is, doesn't land on solid ground as the film spends much more time on her dramatic moments than her stage presence. Dahan loyally portrays Piaf's inner life but in the process, loses her charm, bravura, and intoxicating public portrayal. And like her concert audience, the theater audience can see it. Unlike its subject matter, there's just nothing spectacular or unique about Rose.