La Vie en Rose (La Môme) is the story of Edith Piaf as told by director Olivier Dahan, and lead Marion Cotillard. This is certainly Piaf behind the scenes, chronicling a childhood of being constantly separated from the people and places she gets to know, to a life as a street singer, before being discovered and making the big time. In the end, living her life for the moment catches up with her, and the moment is passed at only 47.
In a way this could be just another drugs, sex and rock and roll movie, albeit with some nice period touches – Paris, New York and California in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. But what makes it different is its quality, whether it is the acting, the writing, or their realisation on the screen.
Marion Cotillard brings us Edith as an impatient, troubled woman, who looks to St Therese de Lisieux to help her through life, with support from lots of alcohol and drugs. Edith’s first rescuer, nightclub owner Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu) is murdered and she is suspected of complicity but is acquitted. However, this was a setback to her career until she came under the wing of Raymond Asso, and the rest is history.
After the war, Edith Piaf toured the USA, where she met the love of her life, the married boxer Marcel Cerdan. The importance of this relationship to her is illustrated through a fantasy scene when she learns of his death in a plane crash. After that, it seems to have gone downhill on the relationship side, even if the career was taking off big time. In the end the drugs and rehab, the booze, and the car crashes, all took their toll on the body, including the liver, and the end is inevitable.
The movie flashes around Edith’s life, beginning with a collapse on stage, going back to her childhood, and then working its way backwards and forwards to the end. The effect is successful. It illustrates and emphasizes the nature of her life and the relationships in it, including that with her half-sister, Simone. Although names are dropped, e.g Cocteau has her in a play, and we see Marlene Dietrich drop by at New York club, most of the action is with Edith’s circle.
Marion Cotillard becomes Edith Piaf, and while the big-eyed look is perhaps overdone, her performance is extraordinary, and she carries the movie with her. She uses the whole of her body – the damaged walk of later years, the arm gestures, and the joyfully bad manners – to give us the character. In the end, this is a very good movie, because it explains something to us about a life that has become a legend and a symbol.