Paris’s Piaf: Slice of Post World War I Paris

vieenrose.jpgThere are plenty of good reasons to see Olivier Dahan’s film “La Vie en Rose” a biography of singer Edith Piaf. She was born in Paris in 1915. She lived in the Belleville district of Paris (in the northeast which remains to this day a working class neighborhood). If director Martin Scorsese still plans on making a film about Paris between the two World Wars, he will do well to study the brilliant portrayal of this era in Dahan’s “La Mome” as La Vie en Rose is called in the French version.

Edith Piaf trivia: Did you know that some performers consider it bad luck to sing an Edith Piaf song? Although it was true that Piaf suffered many losses – one of her greatest loves, Marcel Cerdan, the boxer died in a plane crash, certainly her success as a performer and her rise to stardom from such modest beginnings had to include a little bit of good luck.

Equally stunning are the scenes of Piaf’s childhood spent in part with a relative who ran a brothel in Bernay, Normandy. (Although the Bernay tourist office mentions Piaf’s soujourn in their town, this juicy detail seemed to have slipped through the cracks). We ‘ve been going to Bernay for years – and I have to admit that I had some trouble recognizing familiar landmarks except for part of the church and the river scenes. I would have liked to have known how much of the film was actually shot on location in Bernay – however the aura of the early 1900s certainly was captured.

This is the perfect backdrop an actress holds nothing back. She wrings out every iota of her skill and wills herself to be Piaf with an intensity that borders on that of a medium. No surprise here that La Vie en Rose has garnered two film festival awards:
The Seattle Film Festival and Cabourg’s Romantic Film Festival.




I love listening to Cotillard speak in this film almost as I love listening to the music – and I love watching her stage entrances- her hunched shoulders and her transformation for each performance as if she is inhaling, waiting for the VOICE to take over like a medium. There are no other actresses alive that can compare with Marion Cotillard’s brilliant art.

In spite of Ebert’s apologies for the lack of chronology in the biography, claiming the lack of an orderly portrayal matched Piaf’s chaotic life, I still feel the editing needed some fine-tuning, particularly the scenes of the aging Piaf. Why did we have to wait until Piaf’s deathbed scene to know that she had had a daughter that died young?

Nevertheless, the film is an exquisite tribute – no need to quibble over editing issues – I haven’t yet found a biographical film that can cope very well with flashbacks (except maybe Lawrence of Arabia).

But there are some other reasons I wanted to mention La Vie en Rose. One of Piaf’s venues, Bobino Nightclub, located on Rue de la Gaite, has recently reopened. This was a favorite haunt of American expats who came here to see Josephine Baker.

And perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that an Edith Piaf museum exists in Paris, but may not be so well known. I have yet to visit the museum which can be done so only on a by-appointment basis, Monday through Thursday in the afternoons.
The museum is located at 5 rue Crespin du Gast in the 11th arrondissement. Tel. 01 42 55 52 72. Metro: Menilmontant To read more about this museum, you need to read Deborah Straw’s
article posted on The Literary