A big to-do was made in 2007 about La Vie en Rose, specifically about how they shouldn’t even bother having the Oscar for Best Actress that year, as Marion Cotillard had all but wrapped it up in said film. Turns out they were correct; she would go on to win that award, plus a bunch of other ones for her role as French singer Edith Piaf. Now that I’ve seen the film myself, I can say that I pretty much agree with all the praise Cotillard has gotten; that she won her award the same year as Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood meant that 2007 was a HELL of a year for acting performances. So, why do I sound so hum-drum about it? Well, maybe because, aside from Cotillard, this film would’ve been written off as Oscar bait (albeit French Oscar bait), since that’s pretty much what it is.
The film is a biopic of Piaf, who apparently had quite the extraordinary life if this film is to be believed. La Vie en Rose also makes the interesting decision to arrange Piaf’s life non-chronologically, which basically means the film jumps from period to period in Piaf’s life, ostensibly as the memories of an aged, dying Piaf. She gets bussed around as a kid between her mother, her father, and her grandma, before a spontaneous decision to have her sing as part of her father’s solo circus act turns her life path toward being a singer, and we hopscotch between the various points of her trying to scrounge together enough of a name for herself and finally having made it as a star. So, right off the bat, the crown jewel of this film is without a doubt Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf, in every age range except child. To say that she completely embodies her role in a way that few actors have ever done in the history of cinema is to understate the fact. There is no realism here, no attempts at making the character feel like any other person out there; there is only ferocity and emotion and a vigorous display of living life at its most extremes. Cotillard pushes the envelope of dramatic acting in virtually every scene she is in, and it is a testament to how good she is as a whole that the individual parts don’t come off as maudlin or overacting. It is truly a performance for the ages. The rest of the film, however, could very well use the words maudlin and overacted to describe it. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that it is well done to such a level that there basically would be nothing but melodrama and accolades-grasping production value to be had here were it not for Cotillard’s riveting portrayal. Really, that wraps up all my feelings about La Vie en Rose, so much so that I really feel no need to go any further.
I found one review that summed up what La Vie en Rose was so perfectly that I couldn’t phrase it any better myself, so I’m essentially stealing it and repeating it here: La Vie en Rose would basically be nothing but an above-average biopic without its central performance. That’s the film in a nutshell; a very good film in the biopic genre, that is elevated above what it otherwise would settle for being by Marion Cotillard’s astonishing performance, and that’s that. I’m giving it the most obvious extra point in the history of extra points, and really, this is a must see for Cotillard alone. But that’d be the only reason to see it. Still, it’s an absolutely smashing reason.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10