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STUDIO: HBO Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 141 Minutes
• Stepping Into Character Featurette
"She’s French and she’s loud."
Marion Cotillard, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Paul Rouve, Gerard Depardieu
Famous French chanteuse Edith Piaf gets her own biopic complete with all the usual rise/fall scenarios. So its like Walk Hard except with subtitles instead of jokes.
I wasn’t being quite fair in the nutshell. Yes, this is a pretty "by the numbers" affair when it comes to imagining and compressing the life of Edith Piaf. That being said, in practically every arena the craftsmanship on display here is downright amazing. Much has been made of Marion Cotillard’s brilliant portrayal of the titular wailer (I’m trade marking that band name right now). The box quotes certainly won’t let your forget that, but they’re all spot on. She is amazing, beautiful, repulsive, and all kinds of twitchy in the gray matter (technical psychology term), she brings the movie to a whole other level. The highest praise I can give her is that it looks like those songs could have come out of her. I don’t think I can say that about any other human being currently living.
Why so serious?
Now while the story itself is pretty boilerplate, the presentation is glossy enough to let you just revel in the production design, lighting, and camera work. I was surprised to discover so many wonderful steadicam sequences, sometimes compressing time as well as presenting surreal juxtapositions within the same shot. Of particular note is a tragedy that comes roughly halfway through the picture economically presented with a whirl of choreographed breakdowns. This extends to the pacing of the picture in general, which while following a rather beaten down path has the intelligence to speed past the more tired elements.
Alright, who let David Lynch on set?
The lighting is mostly motivated by practicals and outside single sources, creating some really gorgeous work. The color palette is carefully chosen and follows the arc of the narrative in a fairly usual manner. The downtrodden ragamuffin gets a desaturated blue Paris to wallow in. Once she gains fame and fortune the deep reds and greens practically run down the screen like wet acrylic. Her aging days in California are burnt out and tacky. Perhaps more imagination could have been used in the progression, but if it works it works. The New York sequences are particularly wonderful sets, and features one of the best looking diners I have ever seen. If by some miracle that place actually exists, somebody tell me where it is.
One thing I really appreciated is that while we get a fair amount of Edith’s music, the filmmakers never rely on her brilliance as a crutch to lazy filmmaking. In one particularly stirring performance we don’t hear a single word until she finishes singing. We know the songs already (or at least a couple from the film even if you’ve never heard of Edith Piaf) and seeing Marion’s face belt it out with complete conviction becomes all the more powerful when you realize she’s selling it without the famous track behind her.
The tech details on the picture and sound are both topJ notch, and the box art is adequate (however definitely pretties up the lead). We don’t get much in the way of features except one small piece about how Marion Cotillard got into character with the help of makeup, research, and direction. There isn’t too much of interest here except some added appreciation for a really daunting makeup challenge. The real surprise is in seeing the main actress out of character, and discovering she’s practically unrecognizable even though you’ve been watching her for the last two and a half hours. She is really someone on keep an eye on.