Film review: La Môme [La vie en rose] (2007), directed by Olivier Dahan
To be perfectly honest it’s not often I feel like I really need to write a review about something. Something that I just can’t get out of my head until I’ve done it. Guess what? This is such a film.
La vie en rose, or as it’s called in its native France, La Môme, is an Édith Piaf (1915-1963) biopic. I’m sure I’ve heard before that she lead a short and tragic life and that she’s still considered something not far from sacred in France. Exactly how tragic her life was, though? Ouch.
Little Édith (Manon Chevallier) lives with her impoverished mother who’s singing on the streets of Paris. After being left with her maternal grandmother, Édith’s father (Jean-Paul Rouve) takes her away to Normandy to live with his mother (Catherine Allégret), a brothel-keeper. A brothel is not the ideal place for a child to grow up, but one of the prostitutes, Titine (Emmanuelle Seigner), takes a keen interest in Édith and is heartbroken when the father takes her away again some years later.
Slightly older Édith (Pauline Burlet) is with her father at a circus, but they break away to form their own act. It doesn’t go well, but it’s discovered that Édith has a fantastic voice.
Years later, now adult Édith (Marion Cotillard) and her friend “Mômone” (Sylvie Testud) sing on the streets of Paris. She’s discovered by nightclub owner Leplée (Gérard Depardieu) and eventually finds both fame and fortune – and fleeting moments of happiness in between heartache and substance abuse.
Also starring Jean-Pierre Martins as Marcel Cerdan, Marie-Armelle Deguy as Marguerite Monnot, Marc Barbé as Raymond Asso, and Harry Hadden-Paton as Doug Davis.
First off, Marion Cotillard deserved every award she got for this role, and she got a fair few. While Édith came across as obnoxious a lot of the time, the acting performance itself is magnificent. I didn’t even recognise Cotillard’s face, because all I saw was La Môme Piaf.
The chronology of the film isn’t straightforward to follow, and was really confusing at times. At the beginning it has a perfectly linear narrative – a child growing up. Then she’s discovered, and then it cuts back and forth between the 1950s and early 1960s. Most of the 1930s and 1940s seem to have been skipped completely – that she had a daughter that died was only a brief flashback near the end, for instance, and there was no mention of World War II. Why the chronology is so scattered is explained eventually, sort of, but when you figure it out it makes sense.
At the end you think the woman is in her 80s, because that’s the way she seems, but she was in fact only 47 when she died. She lived a hard and intensive life, and sad as it is the film about her is really compelling. It dragged me in and I wasn’t even planning on watching it originally.
The ending isn’t sadder than the rest of the film, realistically, but it ends with Je ne regrette rien, which of course perfectly sums up her life and ties together the film. By that point, I was too busy crying to see what the subtitles were saying.
It’s an amazing film with some amazing acting performances – but it’s also incredibly sad. Édith swings between extreme vulnerability and being a bossy, self-absorbed diva, and at times I couldn’t help but wonder if she had some kind of mental illness going on. Whatever it was, her music still lives on. Not just in France, but around the world, and her memory with it.
4.8 out of 5 black dresses.