Saturday, March 1, 2008

La Môme

Though I was pulling for my personal favorite Julie Christie to win at this year's Academy Awards, I was in no way disappointed in the selection of the gorgeous and talented French actress Marion Cotillard for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. It's a tad bit unusual as far as biopics are concerned as it doesn't follow a solid throughline. The film shows her life from early childhood to her death from liver cancer at the age of 47, but non-linear; almost a puzzle piecing together her past with her present. The film is extraordinary because of Cotillard and her magnanimous portrait of the famed chanteuse. As is the case with many Oscar winning performances from bio-pics (Reese Witherspoon's inexplicably poor rendering of June Carter Cash a notable exception), there is a transformation at which you can do nothing but marvel. However, the prothesis aside (though seeing the frail and aged Piaf near death is jarring), Cotillard finds the humanity behind the legend, showing us that in spite of off-stage drama that colored her personality and aura, she was a passionate performer with an unending need to sing. (When she turns to her friend on her deathbed and knowingly asks "I'm never going to sing again, am I?" you are absolutely heart-broken). I do have to comment on Cotillard's physicality. She has every gesture from the posture to the "singing through the hands" trademark down pat. I also wanted to comment: Edith Piaf was 4'8". Marion Cotillard is about 5'7" though you'd never know it from watching the film; she's that convincing.

I didn't know that much about Piaf prior to seeing the film, but have become fascinated. She is, in essence, the French Judy Garland (or was Garland the American Piaf?) She lived a torturous and brief existence, booze soaked and drug addled, mixing a powerful mezzo belt with the fire and intensity of an artist's soul. The daughter of a street singer and an acrobat, she spent several years of her childhood being raised in her grandmother's brothel. (A fascinating sequence; also, Piaf was struck blind due to infection, the religious prostitutes raised money to send her on a Pilgrimage to St. Thérèse de Lisieux). The superlatives applied to what will become Cotillard's most famous role have all but exhausted the thesauri in the world. You've read the reviews and I won't add to them. The accolades and awards are deserved; and Marion is a treasure to behold. Taking us through the dimensional world of a struggling insecure artist who's temper and alcoholism are juxtaposed with moments of such vulnerability that all you want to do is hug Piaf. (It is during these moments where I feel Cotillard is channeling Giuletta Masina's Gelsomina from La Strada, which is an extraordinary achievement that lesser actors couldn't begin to fathom). The film, though doesn't end just with her death, it is interspersed with her world-premiere performance of another signature song "Non, je ne regrette rien" (which translated means "No, I regret nothing"). Superb.

Trivia for the musical fans out there, Piaf's close friend and composer Marguerite Monnot (played in the film by Marie-Armelle Deguy) who wrote the music for many of Piaf's major pieces (most notably "Hymne à L'Amour," with lyric by Piaf) became world-famous as the composer of the delightful musical comedy Irma La Douce which, composed in 1956, became the first French musical since the operettas of Offenbach to achieve world-wide popularity.

See the movie. Rejoice in the music. Marvel at Marion Cotillard.

1 comment:

Buzz Stephens said...

This week over at the Yahoo version of The Judy Garland Experience beloved entertainer from the 20th century, Sammy Davis Jr, takes a crack at the Judy Garland songbook. Sammy sings 'em all, including The Man That Got Away, Over The Rainbow, But Not For Me, and many other Garland classics. He even sings two duets with the great lady herself, as well as one with her daughter Liza.
This kind of show biz, and this kind of entertainment doesn't exist anymore!
Another great file posted over at the Yahoo Judy Garland Experience is a radio program that features an interview with a talkative flight attendant who recounts an adventurous red eye flight she took with Judy and her hairdresser, Orville, back in 1963.
This one is a real hoot!
Other new files over at the Yahoo version of The Judy Garland Experience include two episodes of the Charlie MCCarthy radio show. One is from June 7, 1942, and the other is from December 7, 1941, better known as Pearl Harbor Day.
This nerve wracking broadcast which featured Judy, along with Abbott And Costello ,was constantly interrupted with news of various countries making declarations of war!
Nevermind that Judy rises to the occasion and offers up some great entertainment, this was history in the making!
Even if you are not a Judy fan you might want to check out this broadcast for it's historical significance alone!
And if that isn't enough several parodies of the song The Lady Is A Tramp, as sung by Frank Sinatra have been posted over at the Yahoo experience. Frank salutes his friends Orson Welles, Maureen Starkey, and Spiro Agnew, as well as remarkable duets of the song with the great Ella Fitzgerald which were recorded over the span of 33 years. There is even an ultra rare rendition performed by Frank with Buddy Greco!
And if that isn't enough there are also tons of other rare audio files by Judy and others.
For those of you who aren't familiar with The Judy Garland Experience it is an exciting group on yahoo that features lively and informative discussions, and the rarest audio, video, and photo files of Judy anywhere! The membership includes Garland family members, people who knew and worked with Judy, other celebrities, authors, film makers, and fans of all levels and persuasions. The only one missing is you.
Please stop by The Judy Garland Experience and check it out. I promis you won't be disappointed.