La Vie en Rose: Haven’t Heard of Edith Piaf? Don’t Start Here

Uplifted beyond its merits by a thrilling performance from Marion Cotillard, this humdrum biopic of France's favorite songbird, Edith Piaf, jogs obligingly along with Piaf the legend rather than the woman. It's not hard to do, given the fuzzy borders between Piaf's scarred life, her permanent existential panic, and her gift for revisionist autobiography. An unblushing fan, writer-director Olivier Dahan has bought the package, and then some, cooking up a fictional warm-hearted tart (Emmanuelle Seigner) to comfort Piaf's deprived childhood and handing the temporarily blind child a miracle cure without so much as a cocked eyebrow. La Vie en Rose trudges dutifully from one "defining" event to the next—bad marriages, tumultuous affairs, the works—building to a kind of Piaf theme park that plays out like a bad parody of Dickens or Balzac, and skirting ticklish questions about whether France's beloved sparrow may have been a Nazi collaborator. Reluctant to muddy his diva with complication, Dahan sticks with neurosis, but Cotillard, looking uncannily like the bug-eyed, jolie-laide Piaf, takes the character deeper, giving the chanteuse a ruined grandeur. Stranded between the mutinous child she never fully outgrew and the crowd-pleasing supplicant who could never get enough audience love, Cotillard's Piaf flounders, but defiantly and with no regrets.

 
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