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A haunting look at singer's tragic life

All great musicians have their own personal demons, which they eventually come to terms with and put aside to achieve greater things. Think of recent musicians who have had their own biopics: Ray Charles ("Ray") soared despite being blind and overcame drug addictions to earn a long and successful career, and Johnny Cash stepped out of his dark past to find fame and the love of June Carter ("Walk the Line").

Edith Piaf wasn't so lucky. She ended up a world-famous singer only by pure chance, escaping her awful upbringing but never the crippling effects it left on her. She always struggled to actually find happiness and spent her last years frail, defeated, slouched over and drugged until dying at the ripe old age of 47.

This is all brought to life in excruciating detail in Olivier Dahan's "La Vie En Rose." This is another music biopic that is captivating for one pinpoint reason: Marion Cotillard's brilliant performance as Piaf.
Piaf was raised at first in a brothel and later by her father, a desperate man who tried to make a living as a street performer after quitting the circus. Singing only came to her when she was pressured to do something to draw a crowd in the streets, and when she opened her mouth for a song, something beautiful just happened to come out. She quickly gained a small following and then a larger following until she was a worldwide celebrity.
But Piaf was never prepared for fame or for any of the many pressures her life would bring her. She was rude, somewhat selfish, drank like Nicolas Cage in "Leaving Las Vegas" and was a great singer but a weak performer until a vocal coach intervened. Her affair with a married boxer, Marcel (Jean-Pierre Martins), teased her with a hint of happiness while also pulling her farther away from ever truly finding it.

All of this is perfectly captured by Cotillard. Her portrayal starts when Piaf was in her twenties, vibrant yet unsure of herself, and -- thanks to an amazing makeup job -- goes right up to her final self-destruction.
Piaf's life is thoroughly examined throughout the film's two and half hours, though it does omit some major parts of her life, including her work in the French Resistance during World War II. But the facts are less important than something else the film totally gets right about Piaf: Her emotions. "La Vie En Rose" is a raw and powerful -- if occasionally melodramatic and tedious -- exploration of the cloud that haunted Piaf no matter what levels of fame and infamy she achieved. Cotillard excellently portrays her tragic life and downfall in a way that will leave you shaken. The movie is in French with English subtitles.

Jason Silverstein will be a junior at Williamsville North.

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