Film Review: La Vie en Rose

14 October 2007

Edith PiafLa 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.

For more details go to the IMDB site for this movie. To see a great review, and links to YouTube videos of Edith Piaf, go to Roger Ebert.

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Film Review: Breach

18 August 2007

Breach is about betrayal. Based on actual events, it explores why a man would want to betray his country, but also questions why someone would want to live in a world of secrets and lies.

Robert Hanssen, brilliantly portrayed by Chris Cooper, was the FBI agent who sold secrets to the Soviet Union. The film covers the last couple of months before his capture as Eric O’Neill, a young and ambitious FBI employee (Ryan Philippe) who wants to make agent is put next to Hanssen to try and flush him out. The FBI want to catch him making a drop so that no amount of legal dexterity can save the spy.

The story is about how Eric gets close to Hanssen and gains his trust, at some cost to Eric’s relationship with his wife. Juliana, and eventually to his ambitions to be an agent. Hanssen believes that he is smarter than his colleagues, but hasn’t received adequate recognition – he doesn’t have a corner office. You get the impression that he is passing on secrets because he can, and perhaps because of a troubled relationship with his father. There are hints of some strange behaviours – Hanssen films videos of himself making love to his wife and sends them to someone in Germany. In the end, unmasking and capture are inevitable, but perhaps that’s part of the game: he wants to be caught, he wants to be guilty, he wants to be as hard on himself as he is on everyone else, and as his father was on him. Also in the end, he is outsmarted by Eric, or is it because he wants to be?

The acting by Chris Cooper is great, and the main supports, Ryan Philippe and Laura Linney as Eric’s handler, help build the mood of the film. This is not a full-on action special spy thriller, but it is a clever and thoughtful story that does leave you thinking.

The director is Billy Ray, more details of cast and crew can be found at the IMDB page for Breach.