on 1 Jan, 1970
from The Spectator (US) / by Scott Hansen
Oscar-winning performance saves film
As publicity and anticipation for the new Johnny Depp movie “Public Enemies” heightens, so will the interest in the film’s leading lady Marion Cotillard. She isn’t exactly a household name, and perhaps people seeing “Public Enemies” was filmed in Wisconsin and co-stars Christian Bale will wonder what exactly she has done to earn such an honor.
There is no better answer for that question though than seeing her performance first hand in “La Vie En Rose.”
Her portrayal of French singer Edith Piaf is one of those performances that comes around usually once a year that just makes viewers gasp at how immersed an actor or actress has become in their work. She was awarded the 2007 Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance, and I think that after seeing the film there is no question the Academy actually made the right choice that year.
The film, on the other hand, is not as great as Cotillard’s performance. It starts off as the typical biopic and really takes quite some time to get itself out of that rut. The film runs around two hours and 20 minutes, which isn’t a bad thing until considering the first 40 minutes are devoted to things that don’t make Piaf any more special than anyone else that has ever been portrayed in a biopic.
She goes through the typical horrendous childhood that most biopics seem to showcase. She deals with poverty and makes mistakes, much like anyone else. And it isn’t until the filmmakers themselves seem to find what makes her so special and unique that the film takes off and becomes a thing of beauty.
As much as the film’s opening would have you believe, Piaf was not the typical singer. She has unfortunate luck, suffering atrocities that she has no control over. Her love life is suspect and ultimately rocky because of her lack of self-confidence. She does not have charisma and often suffers from stage fright. And she isn’t exactly the most healthy or likeable performer to ever grace the silver screen.
It is when the film focuses on these attributes and showcases how Piaf got past them – or in some cases didn’t get past them – that everything becomes engaging and worth watching.
Amazing performances can only do so much for movies, and eventually the content of the film has to take over. Cotillard’s performance is worthy of all the praise and recognition it got, and I wouldn’t be surprised, come July when “Public Enemies” is released, if she actually steals the show. But the film needed to be either about two hours long or just mainly focused on Piaf’s breakout onto the music scene and her career. Had it done this, Cotillard’s performance would have been the icing on the cake and not the egg that holds it together. But alas, it begins by being cliché and disinteresting and never is able to get over that to achieve pure greatness.