There are certain attributes all biopics about musicians must possess, lest the universe implode: a lead character whose artistic spirit is forged by adversity; a non-linear narrative that jumps forward and backward without warning; and lots of substance abuse. La Vie en Rose, director Olivier Dahan’s cinematic portrait of Edith Piaf, doesn’t deviate from this formula enough to threaten the time-space continuum, yet it still delivers a story of a performer’s life that feels fresh and compelling.
The film’s success begins and ends with Marion Cotillard, the unknown (to American audiences) actress who plays the legendary chanteuse from a reckless 20-year-old street musician to a 40-something invalid so hobbled by drug use she looks likes she’s 70. The real Piaf’s life was filled with enough misery for three movies – a childhood spent in brothels and on the streets; the untimely death of almost everyone she held dear – yet Cotillard’s seemingly effortless portrayal never lets the movie slip into melodrama. When she sings “Je Ne Regrette Rien” (“I Don’t Regret Anything”), you’ll believe every word of it.
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