Wednesday, 15 July 2009

La Vie En Rose

Lowdown: The life and times of French singer Edith Piaf.
I cannot be said to be a fan of Edith Piaf, although when in the right mood I can enjoy her songs for a limited duration. A film about her? I was hoping the film would have enough songs played using the best sound the Blu-ray format can deliver so at least I'll enjoy the musical performnace.
So, what does La Vie En Rose teach us about Piaf? Well, we learn that she was born to a broken French family during the first World War, which means she was born into hard times. Her family didn't exactly raise her lovingly, and she ended up growing up in a brothel and later a circus only to become a street performing beggar. Then, however, she is discovered by the owner of a cabaret, where she makes her breakthrough to become the famous singer that she is. Another important detail we learn about Piaf is that she was always on the sick side of things, from early childhood till her death at a relatively young age. I think we can safely sum up Piaf's life by stating that aside of her success as a singer, hers was a hard life.
Now let me add two comments to the above plot summary. The first is that I don't know much about the real Piaf to be able to comment on La Vie En Rose's loyalty to the truth; what I do remember is that Piaf always reminded me of a hunchback, the way the older Piaf is portrayed in the film. Second, I have to say that the above plot summary is not just a brief overview of the film La Vie En Rose; it is more like a detailed description of the events depicted in the film.
Therein lies one of my biggest problems with La Vie En Rose: It managed to fill some two hours of my precious time with contents that should have lasted no longer than ten minutes. Not only that, it dares to deliver just brief accounts on some key questions, such as Piaf's connections with the criminal world and/or Piaf's activities under a Nazi occupied Paris. Call me a weirdo, but when judging people I would put a lot of weight to the behavior under that most extreme of conditions, Nazi rule.
There is also an obvious tendency to compare things to contemporary standards. Piaf is depicted as someone who has had a miserable childhood; but then again, didn't many other French suffer during her times, too? Remember, we are talking about living in a country where two world wars were fought. By focusing on Piaf and telling us how miserable she was the film does ill service to most of Piaf's colleagues from the period.
To make things even worse, La Vie En Rose plays these artistic time shifts on us. Every scene takes place in different times, and it tended to take me a while to realize when we are each time around. With people looking slightly different in each scene, but different enough to make recognition a problem, I had a tough time sticking to the plot. Luckily for me, and as I already said, there is not much happening here anyway; but I don't like to be toyed with, especially not if this toying is solely for the purpose of hiding the inherent shallowness under a thick cloud of pomp.
On the positive side, Marion Cotillard, the actress that plays Piaf, does a hell of a job. It's amazing to see how she does the young Piaf and the old Piaf so seamlessly you would never guess she was 32 when the film was released. Thing is, the other movie I remember her from, Love Me If You Dare, had suffered from very similar issues. It therefore seems as if Cotillard's talents might be wasted.
Best scene: In general, the scenes I like the most were the singing ones, if only because they offered relief from the annoying time shifts. Of the musical performances, my favorite has to be the last one offered by the film. It has to be said Cotillard does an amazing job miming the songs (allow me to assume that miming was involved).
Technical assessment: The thing I took from this Blu-ray was that it was loud. Not in the sense that provides a wide dynamic range, but rather loud all the way, requiring me to significantly lower the volume on my amplifier. Given that there are reference levels for playing movies this cannot be a good thing. That said, musical performances are nicely rendered (although not much more than that).
Overall: An annoying film that lost me less than ten minutes inside. I'll be on the low tolerance side of things and give it 1 out of 5 stars.


Wicked Little Critta said...

Why should a biopic about one person have to also focus on the sufferings of her colleagues?

Moshe Reuveni said...

For some reason I knew you won't let this review pass by (and it's great to be properly criticized).
The point I was trying to make is that the film makes it look as if Piaf has had a particularly hard time as a child, when almost everyone living at the time has had a hard time. It's France, it's World War I; just think how many orphans you'd have.
Anyway, that was the least of my problems with La Vie En Rose. I don't like it when pompousness comes out on top of substance.