Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Marion Cotillard in La vie en rose

Biopic performances have always been right up the Academy's alley, especially in the last few years when we can't seem to have an Oscar year without such an Oscar winning performance. Still, when a relatively unknown French actress named Marion Cotillard took home an Academy Award for playing Édith Piaf, the legendary French singer over the legendary Julie Christie, viewers were nothing short of shocked. Marion Cotillard's Oscar win shows how the Academy can (and should always) work: Marion Cotillard won an Oscar simply on the merits of her work, which lots of Hollywood actors praised for its bravery. You might say that Marion campaigned for that Oscar, but after all, she got all the attention for her performance and in the end, it was always about her performance. Every once in a while, the Academy really gives the Oscar to what they consider the best performance of the year (I loved 2007 because all the important awards went to the right place, except for Original Screenplay).

Also, it really amazes me that people seem to dislike La vie en rose, which is, in my opinion, one of the three best films of 2007. It achieves everything that The Iron Lady was aiming to and does so effortlessly. Basically, it's about Édith Piaf remembering her life on her deathbed and that explains its odd structure. I feel that the movie should have taken home all the Oscar for the costumes and the win for the make-up was well-deserved. Actually, I would have nominated the film, the director and Emmanuelle Seigner who breaks your heart in her brief time on the scene as Titine, the prostitute who takes care of the five-year-old Edith.

Although Marion Cotillard was no stranger to American audiences after her parts in Big Fish and A Good Year, it was La vie en rose that brought her the recognition that lead to lots of other roles in the US (she's actually even become a sort-of-muse to Christopher Nolan). Some were hoping for an F. Murray Abraham type of post-Oscar career and instead she's become a prolific and popular actress in Hollywood with lots of new fans and the possiblity of another Oscar nomination for her critically acclaimed performance in Rust and Bone (fingers crossed).

Olivier Dahan told reporters that he chose Marion for the part of the French chanteuse because she's the actress who's not afraid of portraying tragedy on the big screen and tragedy is what best describes the life of Édith Piaf: blindness, alcoholism, morphine addiction, being an abandoned child, loss of the true love. It seems that whenever Édith was having a good time or feeling good about herself, there was something coming towards her that would take all the pleasure from her. Even Judy Garland's life story seems to be a cakewalk compared to Édith's. Although each of those above mentioned elements scream Oscar (especially in a biopic), I'm still saying that Marion's performance is a very unusual one to win the Oscar since it ignores so many rules and is so different from everything we've seen before. No wonder her work's become somewhat controversial: first of all, the subject of the movie is really European, it's passionate, the emotions are really overwhelming and I don't think many people got it. Also, some might refuse to read subtitles and think that great performance come only in English. I suppose Julie Christie might have been a more defendable pick for the Best Actress and we all know the Academy likes to play safe. I think it takes a very special performance to overcome all these boundaries and boy, is Marion special in every way!

Even if we ignore every merit of Marion's performance beside the technical part, it still remains a riveting and haunting performance, which rivals Meryl Streep's astonishing work as Margaret Thatcher. Marion transforms into this woman and embodies her so well that you refuse to believe that you're not looking at Édith Piaf. Even if this all sounds cheesy, you have to see to believe it. Marion Cotillard indeed completely disappear and instead we see a woman in different ages and conditions.  The beautiful, young and tall Marion Cotillard becomes a broken-down, dying woman who looks 70 at the age of 47. Marion heartbreakingly shows the effects of Édith's self-destructive lifestyle on her body: her voice becomes scratchier, her body deforms and so on. I don't think I've seen self-destruction portrayed in such a harrowing, brutal way. But the fact is, that Marion disappears even in the scenes without the tons of make-up. Yes, the terrific make-up helped Marion a lot, but she uses it as a tool instead of letting it do the work for her.

And yes, if we're here, let me just adress all the comments about her lip-syncing as it's probably the most annoying thing what I hear about her. First of all, whether an actress sings herself or not is the choice of the director. We all know from Nine (and other movies) that Marion is a terrific singer who could have sung all the chansons of Piaf perfectly, but the aim of the movie was to draw an intimate portrait of Édith Piaf and not  providing a showcase for Marion Cotillard and Piaf's voice was essential to that portrait. Marion's task was to make this voice her own by using her body and main task was to recreate the wonder of Édith Piaf who was much more compley than a great singing voice. During her performances (and in real life) she had a very special aura that made her such an enourmous, radiant presence, which is really indescribable. In a scene, Marion has to recreate this miracle on screen without Édith's voice and she (SURPRISE!) succeeds in every possible way because above all, she embodied the soul of Édith Piaf, which was indeed the key to her personality.

And here we come to the most important thing about her: the most brilliant thing about this performance is neither the technical part nor the emotions, it's really the way these two combine. First, Marion inhabited Édith's soul and spirit, which helped her recreate the phsyical aspects of the character and this is how she developed Édith's. And she did so with the movie standing in her way: since it ignored the chronological order of the events, Marion couldn't develop Édith gradually so she had to find some connections in the story and the events.

On this journey, we get to know many faces of Édith and actually, very few of them is likeable. However, Marion was somehow able to make us look up to Édith even when she's the bitchiest or the nastiest to everyone, because we are able to understand why and how her personality changed throughout the years. As a result, every part of her life is somehow different and the tragedies become heartbreaking for different reasons. As a young woman, the two most heartbreaking moments come right after each other: her menthor dies and her best friend is taken away from her as well. Her drunken meltdown over this (for me) is equal to the choice of Sophie.

My favorite moments in this film come when we get to see the romance between Édith and Marcel Cerdan (and you just cannot ignore the scene between Édith and Marlene Dietrich, which is indeed magical). Life is unusually balanced for Édith here and Marion excels also as a happy woman. For me, the real feat is that she was able to make the happiness of Édith just as haunting as her suffering and that's why the end of this story is one of the most painful scenes in movie history.

However, it's the end that most people will probably remember the most about this performance as it's quite simply cathartic. The moments of the interview on the beach, Édith crying on her deathbed or her final performance are nothing short of amazing. In about 15 minutes, Marion does what others couldn't do in 150 minutes. She shows the essence of Piaf's character without seeming preachy or cheesy. All the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and its effect is just cannot be described with words. Her "advice" for every person becomes so true and so effective, even in its simplicity. And Marion's delivery of that single word is just... :)

In the end, there isn't much to say about Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf. Cotillard is nothing short of amazing in every possible way an actress can be. Her performance has the effect of an earthquake: it makes you go through Édith's journey along with her and get to understand why this woman was such a brilliant artist. It's very unusual, extraordinary and unbelievable work from a truly great actress who gives probably the most  brilliant portrayal of a real life person.
What do you think? 

16 comments:

mrripley said...

What a fabulous acurate review,i am not a gr8 fan of foreign language movies,subtitles do bug me but here Marion is simply THE best of the best actress winners yes better than Meryl in Sophies Choice.

my fave scene is when the two guys play a song and she starts saying 2c'est moi".

right up their with Theron in 2003.

dinasztie said...

Thanks! I think she's better than Charlize. :) I like Charlize a tiny-tiny bit less than other people do. :)

andrelepaun said...

I feel like there are many good foreign languages performances that often get over looked because they are in a another language. I feel like Penelope Cruz should have won in 2006 but back to Marion. Marion's performance is on par with Meryl's performance in Sophie's Choice. Marion displays most if not all of Edith's emotions. The scene that always gets to me is when she's performing l'accordeoniste and then almost collapses on stage and is taken backstage and how she begs to be allowed to return to the stage. It's simply beautiful! What a well deserved Oscar win! :D

joe burns said...

Haven't seen her in a long time, but I personally hated the film so...

But I remember her being impressive, but the awfulness of the film clouded my judgement. I'll rewatch her very soon though!

I'm sure she'll win. I wouldn't call her actual Oscar win a huge surprise though, because she did win the BAFTA and the G.G and was a strong contender. But pundits put too much faith in Julie Christie.

Louis Morgan said...

I really should get around to watching her performance, especially since I have liked in her in most of her other roles.

Nues20 said...

She is of course amazing - brilliant review do you rank her higher than Streep and Fonda? Would be interested to see if Cotillard tops your ranking of the nominees list :)

dinasztie said...

I'm posting my overall ranking after I finished this year. :) It's high time IMO.

Anonymous said...

Looks like she has it in the bag!

Eddie

Derek Bowman said...

I agree wholeheartedly with pretty much 100% of this review. I love both her and the film, and she accomplished all the things I thought Meryl failed at in The Iron Lady. Just wonderful.

She's quickly become one of my favorite actresses. Love her acceptance speech too, so adorable.

joe burns said...

I love her acceptance speech too!

dinasztie said...

Derek: Yes, she outdid Meryl, even though I'm a fan of that performance, too. She's a fantastic actress, indeed. And yes, her acceptance speech was really great - honest, brief, sweet and it really showed how surprised she was. Many say 'OH, I didn't prepare at all. So unexpected.' and then they deliver a fully coherent speech. Come on... :D Marion was indeed stunned and you could see it. I loved that 2007 offered us 2 real, pleasant surprises in the Actress categories.

Derek Bowman said...

I don't want to sound like too much of a Meryl hater, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that both Marion and Meryl got the physicality of their roles right but I thought Marion connected it emotionally much better than Meryl did. I never felt anything towards Margaret Thatcher, but felt SO much about Edith Piaf.

If that makes sense, haha.

Anonymous said...

Perfection! Nothing else to say!

Alex in Movieland said...

she's still one of my favorites ever... and i've seen the film like 3 times or so.

mrripley said...

where r u?

Di said...

Agree wholeheartedly. Marion Cotillard's fabulous in "La vie en rose". I notice, however, that "De rouille et d'os" isn't mentioned on your blog, so if you haven't seen it, I recommend.
Anyway, I just came across your blog and felt like writing a comment because I'm a fan of Marion :D