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A Champagne Performance From Marion Cotillard
on 15 March 2017
This is a wonderful French biographical musical film about the life of French singer Édith Piaf. Spoken in French throughout, the DVD has very accurate subtitles and is easy to follow for non-French speakers. Lead actress Marion Cotillard won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance - she thoroughly deserved it.
Cotillard gives the performance of a lifetime to intriguingly portray the famous French singer. Covering many decades, the film depicts Cotillard representing a women of considerably different ages, from a teenager right up to the forty seven years that Piaf died at. However, as Piaf was so ill, Cotillard actually was made up to look at least twenty years older than this. It was a stunning achievement from the make-up team to recreate Cotillard to look as old as this, and she showed her full range as an actress - she is utterly convincing portraying the singer at every age.
Cotillard's overall performance is astounding. She brings so much emotion and realism to the part that you cannot help but believe she is Piaf. Her portrayal of Piaf's stage fright, raw sense of humour, vulnerability and energetic singing is breathtaking - and the constant manic use of her deep, dark wide eyes is totally convincing. And, her anguished reaction to the death of Marcel in an airplane crash is incredibly emotive and realistic. It is unlikely that any other actress could have matched the ferocity and intensity delivered by Cotillard.
The film charts the course of the life of Piaf, starting as a child, drifting into prostitution, and her starting to sing. Her father had abandoned her early in her life, but he returns to enter her into the world of show business, all-be-it accidentally as she gives an impromptu rendition of "La Marseillaise" on a street corner, and continues singing - eventually being noticed by a nightclub owner, and her career develops from there. As her life progresses she has alcohol and morphine addiction problems, as well as arthritis, which decimate her physical and mental state.
One potential weakness in the film is the continual jumping backwards and forwards in time, showing Piaf in old age, and going back to the past to unfold key events. Although it worked well at times, the director Olivier Dahan may have over-reached himself by time-traveling too often. At times, the flow and momentum of the film was interrupted and disjointed. This non-linear technique was applauded by many of the critics, but for me it was too much.
Overall, Cotillard's performance masks any flaws in the movie. It ends with Piaf dramatically performing "Non, je ne regrette rien" at the Olympia - a spine-tingling finale to a champagne performance.