Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Viva Piaf


Perhaps the way to go into watching La Vie en rose is without any expectations at all. I'd been listening to people I trust maul the thing for months, so I had little-to-no expectations for it... but hell, I can't place my lack of enthusiasm for an Edith Piaf bio-pic squarely on others shoulders; I am me, and me being the me I am, "musicals" - even ones where the singing is lip-synching - ain't my bag, and beyond knowing the name Edith Piaf I knew nothing about her beforehand, and... well, I have this inexplicable reticence to appreciate French things. Seriously, I have no explanation for it, especially as I end up liking a lot of French things - these two, and that kinda kissing come to mind - but it's there all the same. Mes excuses, les français!

The one pro the film had, from my perspective going into it, was Marion Cotillard, whom I really loved in Love Me If You Dare a couple years back, and when I'd realized it was the same girl garnering praise for playing Piaf I was happy to see her making a name for herself.

Aaaaanyway, if that garbled introduction doesn't make my point clear, I ended up loving La Vie en rose. I watched it over the course of the past two evenings - movie's long! - and even though I'd segmented the final half an hour to an entirely separate evening I still found myself entirely wrapped up in Marion Cotillard's performance and this tremendous character of Piaf.

Both the boyfriend and I had similar, not especially flattering comparisons that came to mind while watching the film - the boyfriend thought of Tod Browning's Freaks (I do believe he coined the term "Schlitze-savant," in honor of that film's pinhead character, to describe Piaf), while I was reminded of David Lynch's The Elephant Man. So... both of us were watching the film through freak-appreciative eyes. Piaf was, in Cotillard's hands (remember, I know nothing of the real-life Piaf), this tragic beast, blessed with astonishing pipes but cursed with this bust-the-walls-down bravado that, if the film is to believed, left her life in shambles and killed her before she turned 50.

But I'm sure you can tell there - I really have no idea even after watching the movie as to a lot of the basic specifics of her Point A to Point Z life. I know she had some accidents that made her addicted to, I'm guessing, morphine. Her married lover died in a plane crash. She had a daughter that died. But somehow... I never missed any of that usual bio-pic filler, the absence of a linear narrative, because this freely-associative miasma of her life that the film becomes... well, I felt as if I got to know the character, some buried truth of a woman I knew nothing about beforehand, as much as I've ever gotten from any of the best bio-pics.

I know a lot of people had trouble with the film's apparent randomness - how one moment in Piaf's early life would suddenly slam into one very late into her life, and then swing back to something in her teens, and so on - so I kept waiting to feel discombobulated by it... but it never came. I hate to say this, it's one of those things critics say that always sounds terribly pretentious to my ears, but it really holds true to what I experienced here - it felt as if the film was following an emotional thread through her life, the ups and the downs bleeding into one another, so on some instinctual, emotional level, I never felt lost. Sort of how I've heard Hitchcock's The Birds described as a "tone poem" - that the seeming randomness of the attacks, the lifts and falls of action, follow a sort of musical, internal sense of their own. The interjection of how Piaf's life was coming to a close into the middle of a scene of her height of performing splendor only served, to me, to enrich both moments, to comment back and forth upon these disparate pieces of her life, and I found by the end it was as if I knew something deeply real about Piaf, a feeling, that I might not have had in a more structurally rigid film. How much truth there is in this "feeling" is an unknown quantity to me since I know nothing of her but this movie, but on its own, this character, this performance, became something more, something with its own truth.

So yeah... knocked my socks off, it did. I'm now torn as to whether I'm rooting for Julie Christie or Cotillard for that Best Actress statue come Oscar night - both are richly deserving. As long as Ellen Page, blog bless her, doesn't sneak in there and steal it with an honorary Ingenue prize - although Page is an awfully butch Ingenue - I'll be pleased. Still can't say either way on Lovely Linney, haven't caught The Savages yet, but I like her so much my non-opinion of that performance is moot; she rocks!


Joe Reid said...

Jason, you're lucky I like you, or else I would totally say something like, "It takes a fan of horror movies to truly appreciate the inhuman, rampaging beast that is Cotillard's Piaf." The Cloverfield monster was more understated. But I like you, so I won't be saying that.

ScottE. said...

I really enjoy Marion Cotillard's performance and I would be thrilled if she wins the golden boy! I also agree, the movie wasn't 100%, but she certainly was. Sadly I think she has the lip-synching approach against her.

RJ said...

That movie really is just bad . . . but Marion is so charming. She's my #8 for the year, but I kind of want her to surprise win anyway.

J.D. said...

I loved it. Wasn't expecting that.

And GOOD LORD, Cotillard. [foams]

Glenn Dunks said...

Well, Ja, you're a more patient man than I. That's all I can say.

Oh, and this:




no fair that you got to split up the watching of it. it's so much easier to hate it if you have to sit through it all at once.

Jason Adams said...

Sigh. I knew I was laying out an unpopular opinion round these parts, but I stand by it! All y'all are filled with hate! ;-)

Seriously though, I really just sort of fundamentally disagree with the notion that the way this movie was edited was problematic. I went into expecting to be lost by some huge butcher job, and I ended up loving the structure.

Honestly, my brain works in funny ways, though. I have a tendency to turn things inside out as they come out of me, so it's not surprising that this would work me over. Hell, half the sentences I type here, I sometimes feel, as I look back at them, that they must seem like convoluted formless messes to everyone else. It's just the way my brain works, and LVER worked me over in the right way. YMMV, of course, obviously, it did. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you like Cotillard's acting. I don't how Nathaniel likes Ellen Page nstead Cotillard.

Finally after years of crazy choices the Academuy took the right choice for give the Oscar to the real actress: Marion Cotillard. She's the great thing about the film...