I’m a guy, and that makes it hard for me to notice when girls are great actors (it’s related to the phenomenon where I’m not able to tell if an actor is “hot”), and thus I know I could never be on the voting board for the Oscars simply because I usually can not tell who is a good actress. It’s just so hard for me to see past the actress and believe that they are their character. Actors have the job of playing make-believe with their audiences, and they must make the audience believe that they are not who they are, but are in fact some one else. For some reason I rarely see that in actresses. There are times, however, when it is so obvious that the actress has become the character that you know she has earned such merit.
Such is the case with this year’s Oscar winner for Best Actress, Marion Cotillard, who becomes the late French singer Edith Piaf in the biographical movie La Vie En Rose. I became interested in the film not only because Ms. Cotillard won the award this year, but also because the film was widely recognized as a great film, not only by critics but also by some of my friends. They were right. It is an incredibly moving film, not only in the acting department but in other technical aspects as well.
The film tells the story of Edith Piaf, opening with one of her later performances wherein she collapses on stage. Frequent flashbacks reveal her life story, although they are not as linear as one might hope, leading to some confusion in the storyline, though this confusion is only occasional. Edith was from her youth a product of the dirty Parisian streets in the early 20th Century, soon finding herself left at a brothel run by her grandmother. It is in these brothel scenes that the sexual content of the film rears its ugly head. It is not by any means a glorification of such abuse of sex, and in fact it is a dirty and ugly place. Edith finds a diamond in that rough when one of the prostitutes becomes a sort of mother for the lost child. Her father’s return, however, forces Edith to move into the next stage of her life. From then on the movie chronicles Edith’s spiraling career into stardom as a singer, painting her triumphs and catastrophes with bitter clarity.
This is a story of a singer, and the storyline is filled with songs, sometimes in the background, other times the song is supposed to be sung by Edith in front of adoring fans. The movie is also a sort of moral tale, demonstrating the problems with Edith’s life of partying and painkillers. It shows the destruction of the young woman who is dead before her 50th birthday, killed from the inside out.
This is again a chance for Cotillard to shine as an actress. She portrays Edith throughout her adult life, and is thus faced with the challenge of playing a woman who’s internal organs have shut down, and yet struggles on to sing. The performance is so detailed, so perfected, that it is natural and one is moved inside at the sight of a woman dying.
And yet even in death there is beauty (it makes more sense when you see the movie. Trust me).
The only real fault in the movie was that confusion in the script’s setup mentioned earlier. Other than that, it was a superb film. I give it 3 ½ stars (*** ½).
See it, and then enjoy it.