March 14, 2013
Edith Piaf is an iconic chanteuse in France. I have to confess that I do not know anything about her except for her similarly iconic song, "La Vie en Rose." Last week I was fortunate to have been given the chance to witness an amazingly gritty stage play entitled "Piaf" by Atlantis Productions, which introduced me to the tormented musical genius behind the iconic persona and song. You can read my full review of this must-see piece of serious theater HERE. This 1978 play written by Pam Gems revealed a most dramatic and tragic character in Ms. Piaf.
Of course there is this 2007 biographical film about Ms. Piaf, entitled "La Mome". This was later called "La Vie en Rose", perhaps to use the more popular song title to whet audiences' interest and familiarity. I have long heard about this film, but have not seen yet for some reason. Its main claim to fame was that it had won the Oscar Best Actress prize for then unknown lead actress Marion Cotillard for her total embodiment of the central character. After seeing the play "Piaf", I now felt compelled to finally watch this movie "La Vie en Rose" and compare notes.
Aside from a short flashback style introductory scene, the play generally employed a straightforward telling of Piaf's life in chronological order. Thankfully for that, when watching the movie I was able to get the flow of the whole story despite the distracting technique employed by the film director Olivier Dahan of telling her story non-linearly, in erratic flashbacks and fast forwards. Some of the flashbacks would inexplicably merge into main story which may confuse a lot of viewers who have no knowledge of Piaf's life story. If you knew how the story goes in the first place though, his story telling style choices may actually come across as artistic.
Unlike the play, this movie tells a lot about Edith's sad and eventful childhood. This part of her life would include interesting stories about her being raised in a brothel, living in a circus, going blind and being miraculously healed by her patroness Therese of the Child Jesus. These details of course were perhaps beyond the scope of the play, but they were similarly interesting to know. The play though spent significant time to tell about Piaf's activities during World War II, as well as about her second and last husband, Theo Sarapo. On the other hand, the film totally skipped these two important episodes of Piaf's life. The latter was only mentioned in passing by Piaf on her deathbed in the film
But both in the movie and play, the music of Piaf is front and center. In the film, the incandescent Ms. Marion Cotillard perfected the peculiar stance, facial expressions and hand gestures of Piaf. However, she only lip-synched to the original recordings or recordings done by a sound-alike. The stage Piaf (the glorious Ms. Pinky Amador) though had to sing LIVE with bravura with every performance. The final song "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" was a truly a spectacular showstopper in both film and play as sung in French. However the film fortunately had English subtitles to tell me what the song really meant, and I saw how much meaning the song had to Piaf's life as whole at that point.
The checkered life of Madame Edith Piaf is truly a dream role for any actress to tackle. With the film and the play, I witnessed both lead actresses transform into Piaf. Lucky for Cotillard that she just needed to do this once right to be printed on film, the actress in the play had the additional challenge and difficulty to do repeated performances of this very physically and vocally draining role. In any case, both this biopic and the play will have you interested to listen more to the music of Piaf. Fortunately for us in the age of Youtube, we can also check out video recordings of the real Piaf in action, and we will marvel more about how these talented actresses had portrayed her so convincingly.