Friday, June 15, 2007

LA MOME - LA VIE EN ROSE - stunning central performance; baffling direction

Writer-director Olivier Dahan and co-writer Isabelle Sobelman have fashioned a biopic of Edith Piaf that is infuriating in its narrative structure. The movie flits back and forth through the iconic singer's life like a demented squirrel. Flashbacks, flash-forwards and inter-cut scenes add nothing to the viewer's understanding of her character or motivations. Far from enlightening us and drawing perceptive links, they confuse and infuriate Even within a scene, the director affects attention deficit disorder. The most grievous offense is in the final scene where Piaf - her whole bitter-sweet life building to this moment - sings "Non, je ne regrette rien". All good directors know that when a performer is giving their all in an iconic moment the best thing you can do is keep the camera firmly on them. Think of Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles singing her final song, "Life is a Cabaret" or when John Travolta does his solo dance number in Saturday Night Fever. The key is to let the talent do the talking without any flash camera-work or too many cuts. Olivier Dahan, however, cannot resist cutting away from Marion Cotillard's breath-taking performance. He switches to pictures of Piaf as a little girl; Piaf making a death-bed revelation; Piaf in Paris. It all serves to under-mine what should be the triumphant, heart-breaking finale.

Not only in this biographical material badly organised and badly directed, the choices concerning what to show and what to omit are bizarre. The exact nature of her relationship with her "sister", Momone, is left vague; the fact that she had a child is only revealed in the denouement for no clear reason; and World War Two doesn't seem to happen at all!

The miracle is that the film survives the baffling directorial choices. The reason is partly that it is handsomely designed, beautifully photographed, well-scored and exceptionally well-acted. Marion Cotillard's performance as Piaf is astounding. She plays Piaf from a teenager to death and is convincing at every age and in every mood. But the supporting cast are also strong, with an especially strong performance from Testud.

The other obvious reason is that however you slice it, dice it and genrally dick around with it, Piaf's life is fascinating and the material is mostly all there once you decipher the running order. Edith was born in 1915, the daughter of a singer and an acrobat, and grand-daughter of a brothel keeper. By the time she was discovered by an impresario (Depardieu), she had already lived with whores, travelled with a circus, taken up with the alcoholic Momone, lost a child to meningitis and become embroiled with the mafia. After the murder of the impresario, she retrained as a music hall singer and achieved worldwide fame. She found love with the married boxer Marcel Cerdan, who tragically died in a plane crash. Later she married twice, suffered in a horrific car-crash and became addicted to morphine. She died young - her body exhausted and racked by arthritis, cancer and drug addiction. Throughout it all, the film suggests, she never lost her faith, her willingness to love and to live a full life.

This is, then, a grand story that befits a great spirit and iconic singer. Cotillard's performance does Piaf justice. It is a shame that Dahan's directorial choices did not.

LA MOME - LA VIE EN ROSE played Berlin 2007 and has already been released in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, Greece, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Lebanon, Denmark, Taiwan, Slovenia, Span, Italy, Argentina, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, the USA, Iceland and Hungary It opens in the UK on June 22nd, in Australia and Russia on July 12th, in Singapore on July 26th, in Turke on August 3rd and in New Zealand in September.

1 comment:

  1. The reason why the fact that Piaf had a child is only revealed in the denouement is caused by a kind of "play on words" that could have not been translated, or rendered, properly in english version.
    Piaf, in the lastest days, is remembering of Marcel Cerdan, the worldwide champion boxer, who's first name sounds like "Marcelle", which was the name of her only child she had 15 years before, but only lived to be 2 years old.