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 email@example.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.