La Vie en Rose
THE MOVIE Hopefully Marion Cotillard's best actress Golden Globe nomination last week increases her chances for an Oscar nomination come Jan. 22. No other single 2007 performance has been as critically lauded, and it'd be a shame if it went overlooked because this French-language movie wasn't seen by enough Academy voters. Director Olivier Dahan's Édith Piaf biopic was one of the biggest movies in the French-speaking world, spending four weeks at the top of France's box office following its February 2007 opening-longer than any other 2007 movie (including Spider Man 3, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End) save Ratatouille. Piaf, the 1930s-'50s torch singer who became a national French icon, can still fill seats 44 years after her death,
La Vie en Rose does a fair job of explaining why. Born into poverty and abandoned by her parents, the petite Piaf-born Édith Giovanna Gassion and played by impossibly adorable Pauline Burlet at age 10-survives by singing on the street, where she's spotted by nightclub owner Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu). He thrusts her onto his Champs-Élysées stage in 1935. From here on, Piaf-renamed "the little sparrow" (la môme piaf) by Leplèe, according to the movie-lives in the public light, through love affairs, addiction, and the sorts of personal trials and tribulations that beset artists in fairly conventional biopics such as this one.
Pushing it above the usual is Cotillard's performance, as physically transformative, emotionally devastating, and psychologically demanding as anything that method-acting male actors are typically commended for-only it's in the service of a legendarily petite woman. Cotillard, the polar opposite of ugly, virtually disappears into Piaf, becoming a birdlike, sometimes even timid-looking and brittle woman with the voice that could part the heavens. It's a riveting, fascinating turn in what is otherwise a dependably workmanlike portrait of an artist.
THE DISC For an award-contention biopic about a figure possibly little known in the United States, La Vie en Rose is frustratingly stingy on DVD extras. As in, there's only one special feature, a short featurette about Cotillard, "Stepping into Character," which fuses interview with the actress and director Dahan and some behind-the-scenes makeup shots and the like in its look at creating Piaf. It's a fair short, but other than remind you how unlike Piaf Cotillard looks without makeup, it's fairly benign. There's nothing about Cotillard shaving her hairline back to re-create Piaf's later in life appearance, or removing her eyebrows and having them penciled on in makeup to give her face the proper look, only some blanket praise for makeup artist Didier Lavergne for his ability to change Cotillard into the older Piaf well enough for closeups under heavy lights. Aside from this brief extra, nothing else is offered.