Monday, February 4, 2008

Notes on La Vie en Rose

As many of you know, this blog has been a bit of an experiment on our part. We were moved by Marion's performance in "La Vie en Rose" and felt compelled to track her journey to the Oscars, the symbol of highest excellence in cinema world-wide. This was last July, and thankfully, we've seen Marion recognized time and time again for her tremendous performance. As originally intended, this blog will become inactive after the Oscars ceremony in a few weeks. The Road to Oscar team, however, does have a few things in the planning stages which we hope to see to fruition, but more on that later.

I've received a considerable amount of emails (as well as comments on the blog) from people sharing their thoughts about Marion and her work (be it in "La Vie en Rose" or, for some who have followed her career for years, her lesser-known films). I wish I could post all of them here and I'd like to thank each one of you who has taken the time to join us on this interesting journey. Your voices are incredibly eloquent and your thoughts (and barrage of messages of support after Marion encounters yet another obstacle on her road to the Oscar) always bring a smile to my face.

In that spirit, I'd like to share a post by sartre, who beautifully captures everything I'm sure all of us felt when watching "La Vie en Rose" for the first time. Enjoy:

I put off seeing La Vie En Rose for the longest time for two reasons. It was a biopic and the film in general received discouraging reviews. I probably would have skipped it altogether had it not been for the renown of Cotillard’s performance and your championing of it as someone whose opinions I respect.

The biopic is one of my least favorite genres. It seeks to represent and explain a famous person’s achievements and in some cases decline. In order to meet the latter goal we’re given key events from a life, usually beginning with supposedly telling childhood experiences and progressing through to those in early adulthood, middle age, and beyond. The formulaic nature of the genre becomes immediately apparent.

Representing the achievements of someone famous usually takes up a fair bit of screen time. This necessitates a shorthand presentation of the key causal and consequential events and experiences in relation to them in what remains of the 90 to 120 minute running time. Past biopics have left me feeling like nothing was convincingly presented to help better understand a life. What we get accompanying the achievements and decline highlight reel are to various degrees clumsy or inadequate psychological explanations.

La Vie certainly gives us achievements and key events and experiences throughout Piaf’s life, but makes an excellent choice in frequently jumping around chronologically. Despite all the time-shifts the film’s narrative momentum is still generally taking us from beginning to end. This is refreshing, and works in many important ways. It is more representative of how we actually experience life where the past regularly interacts with the present. And this is particularly the case for those more damaged by earlier experiences as Piaf was. They spend a great deal of time either thinking about trauma or trying to avoid thinking about it. The pieces of her life the film represents, their ordering, and the frequency of time shifts between them heightened the sense of both these reactions playing out in the character. This rang true in a way I’ve not encountered in a biopic before. It was a plausible psychological portrait, and one that quite possibly was relevant to the real Piaf.

We are given a person so haunted by their past that enormous energy was put into escaping it – through fame, pleasing others (chiefly through performance), substance abuse, partying and high jinx, being larger than life, capriciousness, and losing herself in romantic adventure. But we also understand how she would be so in need of a side-kick or entourage to collude with her efforts to escape, give her a sense of connection, and to both curb her excesses and to rebel against when they seek to curtail them. Similarly we accept her desire for strong personalities, particularly in men who were controlling of her, and her sometimes rebellious reactions to their bullying. We come to understand her central fear of abandonment and, eventually her terrible unspoken guilt with regards the greatest loss. The choice to leave this revelation until the very end of the film was a masterstroke. It explained the rawest wound of a life deliberately constructed to run away from painful memories, and served to deepen the psychological significance of all the key events that occurred prior and after the loss.

I’ve praised the film’s writing and director’s collaboration with the editor. But all artistic departments were of the highest order. The film had many creatively breathtaking sequences, none better for me than when Piaf apparently lovingly meets her just returned boxer lover, goes to get him a drink (with a hint that something was off), rapturously returns to him and leaves again to hunt out a present (the reactions of others present now allow us to more confidently understand what is happening), she is confronted with the reality of his death and her unfolding self delusion, rushes to confirm his presence to no avail, and is overwhelmed by grief. The scene ends with her numbly rising and walking through a door onto a stage to perform. Wow. The director represents her immediate reaction of denial to the news of her lover's death in a psychologically truthful and excitingly creative way.

Another critical creative decision was the strong use of close-ups with Cotillard. Often biopics capture a person from a more removed distance, focusing on what they do, rather than their internal world. I know that the desire for perfect aging and character make-up was in part driven by the director’s interest in close-ups. The effect in combination with the time shifts magnifies the sense of the viewer’s intimacy with a psychologically layered character. But for the creative decision to work required a towering performance from the actress, and this is exactly what Cotillard gives us.

In many ways her achievement is comparable to that of Daniel Day Lewis’ in There Will be Blood. Both are almost constantly on the screen for relatively long running times. And both are mesmerizing. Javier Bardem referred to Day-Lewis as a sculptor of the human soul and I believe that the same could be said of Cotillard’s performance. She became the character for me in a way that was so deeply realized that I really thought I was watching Edith Piaf in all her physical manifestations. It was both amazing body and internal acting. The sometimes expressed dismissal of her performance as mimicry is lazy and facile. Cotillard somehow made a larger than life personality seem real rather than caricatured. I knew beforehand that she didn’t sing herself, hardly surprising, but I couldn’t detect any evidence of this. She was perfect for the role and it is difficult imagining anyone else conveying a sense of Piaf’s sad, fragile, yet resilient soul so authentically and movingly.

Bravo Marion and Olivier Dahan. And bravo Dorothy for championing a truly great lead performance and an outstandingly film.


k said...

Beautifully written, wonderfully articulate. So perfectly captures the essence of the film and of Cotillard's performance...I've yet to read something that captured my exact thoughts.

Everytime I see the film I love it more and more -- and I find more and more things to admire about it. I recently watched it with a friend, who loves Piaf but had never seen it, and by the end she was in tears. It's a story driven by a revelatory performance that really does hit you emotionally.

Even if Cotillard doesn't win, her work and this film will endure. I'm confident of it.

OliverGbyrne said...

I personally feel this film is gonna be a cult classic. Lovely message , I wish I could write the way I feel about the film in such a way but it would need to be in French lol I can write English but not that good. I am gonna miss this blog after the oscar I really think you are the BEST Cotilliard site (English AND French) around and I would like to thank you because you are allways up to date , it's an exiting time for me because I had been a fan of Marion from the very begining (I loved taxi 1 and fell in love with her) and France is never really represented in the American Media , even dough there are somme Amazing french movie,they are allways ignored in America.
+ Lately in the American media I was getting used to negative comments on my country or its people (sometime very hurtfull)
So to have a very talented French Actress being nominated for a french movie , I just found it wonderfull.So thank you again for creating this great blog , you rock!!!!

k said...

oliver, this has been an extraordinary year for French films. La Vie en Rose, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Persepolis, hell, even Rataouille represented!

I'm glad to see each have a good showing at this year's Oscars.

Kit van Cleave said...

Oliver, I'm so sorry to hear that some Americans are still acting like idiots and making anti-French comments. What you see happening in the US today is a passionate reaction against the conservative element which has been ruining our country for the last 14 years (since the l994 election, but particularly since 2000). These are the people who instituted the stupid "Freedom Fries" campaign. We are all sick of them, their war, their hatreds, their corruption, and their hegemonic domination of the planet. I love my country, but that means the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, not those who have tried to turn America into a dictatorship of white males for the benefit of white males. I apologize for any hurtful comments you have received from any American. I have visited Paris myself, and always admired the French style and creativity, but was enchanted by the city and its people when I was actually there. I hope you will feel kinder toward the US when we install a different administration in November. Meanwhile, please realize that these people ("neocons") did not speak for the majority of the people. They just had the bully pulpit for a while.

OliverGbyrne said...

Thank you for your nice message , I know , there are a lot of people here that are open to every culture,like you guys, and thoses are the people I like to suround myself with.
Yeh the Freedom Fries thing , I nearly canceled my plans of comming here because of the stuff I watched on the news (the wine bottles geting smashed on the floor,the french flag getting burned) but I came and I dont regret it because I know for every biggots there are sweet and gentle people and hey I got myself a girlfreind here so thats a bonus too lol I love the U.S and I allways correct people when they tel me that " All French hate America!" , I tell them..well if that true it sucks to be me.
But things are starting to look brighter with the new election comming up plus allso our new president , hopefully the relationship bettween our two country will grow stronger from all theses changes.
But it sure does feel good to have a wonderfull actress representing French cinema at the oscar this year and I hope that she will pull a Simone Signoret on us!!
And you are right K , this year had been great for French cinema abroad,Persepolis was a great animated film and I am dying to see the Diving Bell,it's one of my favourite book.

cjkennedy said...

Beautifully articulated Sartre.

Please don't tell me you're going to start your own movie blog and run the rest of us out of business.

Dorothy Porker said...

About time, cj! The cartel you and AD have going on is leaving us smaller blogger wannabes in the dust. I should go ahead and finally file a complaint with the FTC to stop your anticompetitive practices once and for all! (How dare you write with such great wit and elegance time and time again?!?) :-)

sartre said...

Well said Dorothy! Beware of Craig coming here and enticing your faithful following to spend time at LiC instead, as he has done at AD and HE. You'll have to draw on all your legal skills as any anticompetitive inquiry in his acquisition of your regulars is likely to be complex.

cjKennedy said...

Hopefully the jury will be comprised of my 12 readers.

Dorothy Porker said...


Two words: peremptory strike

Should that fail, another two words: bench trial

You're mine, kennedy!!!

OliverGbyrne said...

It's true that I check out other blog and well...they suck.They update like once a week,you update nearly everyday!!!

Dorothy Porker said...

The only other Cotillard site I visit is "Magnifique Marion Cotillard" which Maria runs. It definitely has the best image/video gallery of Marion out there and Maria is a real sweetheart. I highly recommend it!

cjkennedy said...

Dorothy, you have an unfair advantage over me, being a legal mind and all.

I got fired from a law firm once, but that's as close as I've come to a legal career.

Oh, also I used to watch L.A. Law.

Dorothy Porker said...

Do tell! I wonder what triggered your firing.

In any case I'm all talk -- and I'm always up for a good settlement (to emulate Serena, *eyebrow raise*).

L.A. Law does count (though, in all truth, the one show that helped me answer one of my MBE questions for the bar was "Law & Order").

cjkennedy said...

I wish I could say it was something cool and rebellious like sleeping with the managing partner's wife or embezzlement or something.

Alas, no. Pure bad attitude and slacking.

Dorothy Porker said...

Ah, boo. Where's the debauchery? The sexy corporate crime? The battling firms conspiracy (where you could have been a mole)!

Still, I once heard that bad attitude and slacking are the stuff that dreams are made of.

Dorothy Porker said...

Maybe I was wrong...could have been "hard work" is the stuff that dreams are made off, but you know...same difference ;)