It's a good thing that I didn't read reviews of La Vie en Rose, the biopic about Edith Piaf, before I went to see it, thanks to my sister-in-law's hearty recommendation. After thoroughly relishing this film, out of curiosity I went back to read some reviews and was, to say the least, amazed at the one-sidedness of even famous reviewers.
Maybe it should be pointed out that not everything is susceptible to deconstruction and analysis (though I must confess these are favorite sports of mine;) one can enjoy a film/play/book just because, well, because it's so enjoyable!
NY Times reviewer A. O. Scott seems to have had a bad day when he saw it: "No one else could possibly be Edith Piaf," he says, and, while admiring [star] Cotillard for her "discipline and ferocity," he continues "But it is equally hard to be completely swept up in [director] Dahan’s dutiful, functional and ultimately superficial film." whose "main casualty of this willy-nilly narration is any coherent sense of Piaf’s personality."
Rubbish. He must have been dozing, as there are plenty of vignettes which flesh Piaf out. This is a 2hr 20min. film, not a book-length biography (for which see The Piaf Legend, Bret, Edith Piaf, Piaf and Berteaut, etc.) And the non-chronological narration in the film really flows well.
From Jeffrey Anderson of cinematical we get: "Actors love them...because they offer a chance for rich, multi-faceted roles..the Academy voters love biopics, because they offer an easy way to fill up awards ballots...Filmmakers love them because they're easy to make and sell...Everybody wins, except the...[c]asual audience members [who] may believe they've seen the essence of a famous person's life."
Quelle condescendance! as the French might say. Well, this decidedly non-casual audience member begs to disagree strongly. Made me want to read the 600-page biographies.
Besides being able to enjoy the soaring sound of Piaf's music, the acting by Marion Cotillard, who portrays Piaf from her teens to a very-old 47-year-old, is astonishing. Watch her as she comes out to sing, even when famous, like a deer caught in headlights, her momentary hesitation before belting out the song, then back to what seems like her utter surprise at the ensuing standing ovation. The production design is spot-on; the supporting acting uniformly strong; the occasional sentimentality well-controlled.
True to Piaf? Probably, from what one reads about her. A biographically accurate portrayal? Who cares if it's not out of place and fun to watch?
Piaf says in the movie after her disappointing US debut, "Americans don't get me." Some American reviewers don't get this film. Too bad for them.