A strong argument can be made that Edith Piaf was the greatest singer of the 20th century. But that argument is not supported in Olivier Dahan’s disjointed, ridiculous biopic “La Vie En Rose.”
As presented here, Piaf was an irresponsible, alcoholic monster who routinely threw diva tantrums with a ferocity that makes Diana Ross seem like Mother Teresa in comparison. The Piaf of Dahan’s creation is a vicious clown and rapacious slut with a freakishly powerful voice – she is such a virago that it is impossible to believe such a person existed.
Pinballing aimlessly across the span of her life (from the rise of her career to her frail final days and back to the past and the back to her ill end of life and etc.), the film grabs huge chunks out of Piaf’s biography and scatters them carelessly. This non-linear method becomes tiresome and irritating, and at 140 minutes the film’s unstable storyline becomes too much of a bad thing.
Dahan, either intentionally or accidentally, omits key segments of Piaf’s life that show a very different woman. Her extraordinary generosity in launching the careers of struggling artists (most notably Charles Aznavour and Yves Montand) is not cited. Her second marriage, to Theo Sarapo, is only touched upon with brief mentions of Sarapo travelling, giving the impression he was an absentee husband – when in fact, his marriage to Piaf, which took place a year before she died, was one of genuine love and affection. Her deep friendship with Marlene Dietrich (who was her maid of honor at her first wedding, to Jacques Pils in 1952) is telescoped here into a brief and awkward meeting at a New York nightclub. And there is no mention of Piaf’s activities during World War II, where her quiet acts of heroism against the Nazis have been well-documented by more responsible biographies.
Marion Cotillard, who plays Piaf, invests the role with so many tics, exaggerated hand gestures and eye-rolls that it seems she is possessed by the ghost of Geraldine Page. She bears no physical resemblance to the great singer, so she is buried under ghastly make-up that would seem more appropriate for a Japanese Noh drama. Cotillard lip syncs the Piaf songs with an ineptitude that would embarrass Ashlee Simpson.
Speaking of songs, very few of the Piaf standards are presented here in their entirety. Most are sliced and diced, as if this was a Gallic version of “Name That Tune.” And many of Piaf’s most beloved tunes (including “The Poor People of Paris,” “Bravo for the Clown” and “Les Trois Cloches”) are missing.
“La Vie en Rose” is an utter travesty. The whirring sound you may hear while watching this is Piaf spinning in her grave.