String that lot together and you’ve got a showbiz story to rank with ‘A Star Is Born’ for sheer all-out melodrama. With puzzling perversity, however, that’s exactly what writer-director Dahan doesn’t do. Instead, he works his way through Piaf’s life like a pinball whizzing from bell to bumper. We get lots of fancy cuts and time transitions, but the through-line of the character at the centre of it all is only just visible. It’s a film which leaves you wanting more – a nice, straightforward TV documentary, perhaps – so that you can put the pieces of Piaf’s wildly excessive experiences back where they should be and discern just what made this woman tick.Maybe Dahan didn’t want to do the standard showbiz saga – another ‘Ray’ or ‘Walk the Line’, for instance. But is there really so much shame in a biopic which, you know, actually tells you about its subject? Of course, it is still possible to take a slightly off-track approach within the constraints of the sub-genre – the way Tim Burton’s perception of Ed Wood as an authentic artist, in his own mind at least, gives that celluloid life a singularly heroic comedy – though more often than not, studious artiness proves decidedly counter-productive. Admirers of Cole Porter probably still have nightmares about ‘De-Lovely’.
In ‘La Vie en Rose’, much creative energy seems to have been expended on figuring out how to tell the story in as flash a manner as possible, without quite marking out Piaf’s troubled essential self. Although leading lady Marion Cotillard’s rather taller than the super-mignonne four-foot-six Piaf, she deserves plaudits for her dedication to getting the physical mannerisms just so, although perhaps because the film never really gets under its subject’s skin that effort is also only too obvious. Yes, she sings ‘Je ne regrette rien’, and, yes, we cry. Yet the tears are for the song and the memory of a remarkable artist. They’re very little to do with this strenuously crafted yet ultimately bungled 140 minutes of celluloid.