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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

[French Film Festival Malaysia 2007] La Mome' (or La Vie en Rose)

Poster of La Mome (La Vie en Rose)

Just came back from seeing LA MOME (LA VIE EN ROSE is the US title) with my dad at the French Film Festival in GSC 1-Utama.

(I'll refer this film as LA MOME in this entry.)

LA MOME (French for 'The Kid') is a biopic of the legendary French singer, Edith Piaf (1915-1963), whose famous songs include "Non, je ne regrette rien" and "La Vie en Rose". "La Vie en Rose" is a song you can still hear everywhere today, since it's been covered by many many different artists (check out the list of artists who have performed the song).

Here's a 1954 video of Edith Piaf performing the song:

Edith Piaf performing La Vie en Rose during a concert in 1954 (see how awed audiences were by the performance)

I first read Edith Piaf's backstory on Allmusic.com nearly two years ago and I was struck by how dramatic and tragic her life really was. Hers was a rags-to-riches tale, where she endured one tragedy after another despite achieving international success as a singer.

As a child, Edith Piaf was left to live on the streets by her mother, she grew sickly and was on the verge of dying before she was rescued by her father, a street acrobat... only to be left under the care of her paternal grandmother (father went off to join the French army), who ran a brothel. She became momentarily blind due to conjunctivitis, then joining her father again for his street performances, later becoming a street singer herself, and also losing a toddler daughter when she was a teenager. The love of her life, Marcel Cerdan, died in a plane crash, she got involved in a car accident that started her addiction to morphine, and she finally died of cancer at the age of 47.

This film, which goes back and forth from her very last days to her early years as a little girl and eventual rise to stardom, covers most of the major events I mentioned above. But eventually, the film ceases to be a conventional, straightforward musical biopic, as its narrative becomes more fractured, one moment you see her in her 40s, then her 20s, then her 30s, then 40s again, then 30s, etc etc. Her joyous romantic love affair with Marcel Cerdan, her decadent hard-partying lifestyle, her debilitating health, her increasing fear of never being able to sing again. Audiences have to plunge into one moment to another, getting an idea her whole life as a whole.

Unlike a Hollywood musical biopic like RAY or WALK THE LINE, there is something expressionistic about this film that make many images linger with me after I walk out of the theaters. There doesn't really seem to be an attempt to repackage nor dramatize Edith Piaf's story to heighten the drama, there's nothing sentimental nor glamourous in the depiction of Edith Piaf's life, and thus this is really not a film where audiences get to go deep into the mind of Edith Piaf, there is some sort of distance maintained, and by doing thus, it makes Edith Piaf even more mythical.

Production values are great, the cast is great and the make-up is amazing. I think writer-director Oliver Dahan did a great job. There are scenes that are really visually beautiful, and one standout scene to me is the morning she finds out about Marcel Cerdan's death, which is done with a long single take. One needs to see it for him or herself to know what I'm talking about. Like I mentioned before, there are many moments in the film that linger: young Edith Piaf being doted after by a kind prostitute, singing for the very first time after her father's street performance, captivating the audiences onstage for the very first time after some formal training, Edith Piaf's first date with Marcel Cerdan, and then watching his championship boxing match, middle-aged ailing Edith Piaf knitting alone at a beach, and the performances, oh my god, the performances.

Those scenes are when we really hear the voice of Edith Piaf (original recordings of Piaf are used because... it's impossible to replicate her voice now) and they are simply electrifying. I had goosebumps during the scenes where she performed her signature songs.

But obviously, a LA MOME review can never be complete until the reviewer gushes over Marion Cotillard's acting. In LA MOME, it's truly an acting tour-de-force, she truly BECAME Edith Piaf, to the point where I've forgotten that I was watching a movie with an actress acting as Edith Piaf (or that only ONE person was playing the grown-up Edith Piaf!!). In a perfect world, she could've won next year's Best Actress Oscar IMMEDIATELY, because hers may have been one of the great performances in cinematic history. I'm not kidding. Compare the two pictures below:

Marion Cotillard
How Marion Cotillard really looked like

Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose (La Mome)
Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Mome

In conclusion, really good film. But sad, really sad. Might make you feel really depressed after it ends. Anyway, Dad and I are now newly converted Edith Piaf fans.

Film trailer