No regrets

Monday, May 21st, 2007 | All Things, Film

In film class tonight, La Vie En Rose, a biopic of the iconic French singer Édith Piaf, referred to by some as the Gallic Judy Garland.

The film follows the singer’s life from her troubled childhood to her death. Colorful stories about the 4’8″ piaf – sparrow – are the stuff of legend, in some cases, perpetrated by the artist herself: born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville in 1915 (in a hospital, not on the street under a gas lamplight, as the story sometimes goes), she spent her early years living among prostitutes in her paternal grandmother’s brothel, during which young Édith may or may not have experienced an extended episode of blindness as a result of contracting conjunctivitis. What is more verifiable is that she was discovered singing on the streets of Paris by impresario Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu in the film) who booked her at the popular Parisian nightspot Gerny’s, where she became an overnight sensation. A recording contract soon followed, launching Piaf into what would become international stardom, after a dark period of infamy during which she was suspected of involvement in Leplée’s 1936 murder. The film, for the most part, glosses over the French chanteuse’s passionate affairs – Jean Cocteau, actor Yves Montand and Marlene Dietrich count among her many lovers – maintaining the romantic focus on her ill-starred relationship with married world boxing champion, “Casablanca Clouter” Marcel Cerdan.

The rest of her sad story follows the familiar “Behind the Music” arc: illness, heartbreak, morphine and alcohol addictions, a stint in rehab, and an early demise in 1963, at the age of 47.

Piaf is played by French actress Marion Cotillard, best known in America for playing Russell Crowe’s romantic interest in 2006’s A Good Year, based on Peter Mayle‘s international bestseller of the same title.

Cotillard’s physical transformation is remarkable — she disappears into the challenging role, which spans over three decades of Piaf’s life from a gamine teenager to a stooped, shockingly frail, woman. The film makes liberal use of Piaf’s iconic songs (all expertly lip-synched): the title, of course, is taken from one of her most famous, though the particular performance of it featured in the film is — sacré bleu! — in English. It closes with her signature Non, je ne regrette rien (translated as “No, I regret nothing” or more pithily as “No regrets”), a fitting anthem for the artist’s turbulent life.

Times Square

I did not hear “Tu Es Partout,” the song featured in the 1941 film Montmartre-sur-Seine, but recognizable to me from the wonderful scene in Saving Private Ryan in which the soldiers enjoy a lull as they prepare to defend Ramelle against German attack. Corporal Timothy Upham (Jeremy Davies) provided a translation of the song as it played on a phonograph amidst the blasted out remains of the French village:

Even life itself only represents you
Sometimes I dream that I am in your arms
And you speak softly in my ear
You say things that make my eyes close
And I find that marvelous

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