2 hours, 20 minutes
PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned.
for substance abuse, sexual content, brief nudity, language and thematic elements.
Marion Cotillard ... Edith Piaf
Sylvie Testud ... Mômone
Pascal Greggory ... Louis Barrier
Emmanuelle Seigner ... Titine
Jean-Paul Rouve ... Louis Gassion
Gérard Depardieu ... Louis Leplée
Clotilde Courau ... Anetta
Jean-Pierre Martins ... Marcel Cerdan
Catherine Allégret ... Louise
Marc Barbé ... Raymond Asso
Caroline Sihol ... Marlene Dietrich
Stepping Into Character - featurette detailing Marion Cotillard's amazing transformation into Édith Piaf>
This biography tells the story of the short and turbulent life of Edith Piaf who lived only to age 47, so it starts with her collapse, her body looking many years older due to arthritis and drug and alcohol abuse and flashes back to her childhood on the streets of Paris during World War I. Her story is filled with sadness starting with her abandonment by her mother (Clotilde Courau "The Code") and continues as she goes to live at the brothel run by her grandmother (Catherine Allégret, "Last Tango in Paris") in Normandy where she finds momentary happiness when a prostitute (Emmanuelle Seigner "Frantic") all but adopts her as her own and then she temporarily loses her eyesight. Then her self-absorbed, alcoholic, father (Jean-Paul Rouve ("A Very Long Engagement"), a circus performer returns to claim her and take her away with him. But when his act fails, the ten-year old (Pauline Burlet) becomes a street singer to help them earn a living.
Several years later, as a teenager on her own, singing on the streets, she is discovered by nightclub owner Louis Leplee (Gerard Depardieu "Cyrano de Bergerac") who puts her on his stage as Edith Piaf, “The Little Sparrow.” Her stay at the club doesn't last too long as she becomes the toast of Paris. The rest of her life becomes a roller-coaster of heartbreak including a romance with Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins "Empire of the Wolves"), a married prizefighter which ends tragically, leaving her to a life of sex, drugs, illness, public collapses and equally public comebacks.
The genius of Piaf, however, was that she took all of that and channeled it into her singing, which had such raw power and emotion, more than could be possibly be coming from such a tiny singer, but yet it did. Although Marion Cotillard is not nearly as petite as the real Piaf, her beautifully lip-synced performance manages to thrill with its power, no matter how many times you have heard Piaf sing.
The problem with the film co-written and directed by Olivier Dahan ("La Vie Promise"), is that it's not nearly as good as the recent musical biopics "Ray" and "Walk The Line." Piaf’s story is told in a more impressionistic manner, jumping back and forth in time, instead of in a more linear narrative which becomes more than a little annoying. It doesn’t quite have the emotional impact that it was meant to , besides, by presenting what amounts to a Greatest Hits version of Piaf’s life, we don’t get much of a sense of who she really was as a person. But with all its flaws, Marion Cotillard is astounding, and with tighter editing and a more conventional story structure it really could have been quite entertaining, instead of just another overblown film biography.