For Piaf fans - or non - one to see

Posted: April 12, 2007

Most music biopics follow a familiar arc, and Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose is no different: a childhood of pain and poverty, false steps and shaky beginnings, a mentor or two, wild times on the road, discovery, success, fame, death.

But this brilliant account of the life of Edith Piaf - the French songbird, born of the streets, and the brothels, who became a cultural icon for a nation - visits the usual benchmarks, juggles them around, and makes them vividly, explosively real. Populated with whores and boxers, thugs and impresarios, the low and the mighty, La Vie en Rose covers two world wars and a whirlwind of history, zooming in on the big, doleful eyes - and big, beautiful voice - of the woman nicknamed "la môme," the kid.

As portrayed by Marion Cotillard, in a performance that has to be recognized when Oscar time rolls around, Piaf comes off as uniquely talented and tortured, a strong-willed woman whose rough childhood and impoverished early years forged a fiery soul - in the frailest and most abused (drugs, alcohol, you name it) of bodies.

Lip-synching (perfectly), Cotillard transforms from the plucky street singer with the lesbian sidekick to a grand dame of the music world, and all phases between. Filmmaker Dahan toggles around the decades, getting great supporting work from Sylvie Testud, Emmanuelle Seigner, Gerard Depardieu, Clotilde Courau and a pair of magnetic kid actors who portray Piaf at the ages of 5 and 10.

For Piaf fans, La Vie en Rose is a must-see. For Piaf fans yet-to-be, Dahan and Cotillard's extraordinary film is an opportunity rich with discovery.


La Vie en Rose **** (Out of four stars)

Written by Olivier Dahan and Isabelle Sobelman, directed by Dahan. With Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud and Gerard Depardieu. In French with subtitles.

Running time: 2 hours, 20 mins.

Parent's guide: R (sex, violence, nudity, drugs, profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Prince Music Theater tonight at 7 p.m. and Ritz East tomorrow at 2:15 p.m.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5628 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

Also screening today:

2:30 p.m.: Grave Decisions (Germany, young-adult drama), Ritz East

5 p.m.: Whispering of the Gods (Japan, horror thriller), Ritz Five

7:15 p.m.: How Much Further? (Ecuador, drama), Ritz Five

9:30 p.m.: Cashback (U.K., comedy-drama), Ritz Five

9:45 p.m.: S&Man (U.S., horror), Prince Music Theater


For more about the Philadelphia Film Festival's daily screenings, go to www.phillyfests.com.

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