I guess I'm a very bad homosexual for thinking that, with a few exceptional performances-- obvious ones at that -- I don't understand Edith Piaf. But I know why filmmakers do: she's the kind of subject of which award-worthy biopics are made, the more overwrought the better. Baffling and rhythmless, Olivier Dahan's La Vie En Rose rests snugly in the Walk The Line-Ray-The Doors tradition, except for the distributor's curious decision to release the film so early in the year ahead of the rest of the award bait; maybe they knew something we didn't, which is that, as usual, the Academy of Farts and Biases will assemble another disgraceful list of female Best Actress candidates as a reminder that they only consider sagging jugs after Labor Day.
This is not to detract from Marie Cotillard's commitment. Gifted with a cutting delivery and an eloquent smear of a mouth that switches from defiant to opaque depending on the company (and the liquor; the mouth is swollen with pique after champagne), Cotillard embraces Dahan's conception of Piaf as the sum total of her awful childhood experiences: insultingly reductive, true, but at least Cotillard is honest. She reminds me of Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest: oblivious to the pillars crumbling around and on top of her, she sawed away like Caligula. The forgotten Susan Hayward also comes to mind. If this was still the fifties, Hayward (whose career peaked while playing these Kabuki-masochistic roles) would have played Piaf, with that showbiz lady distance between herself and the role that the Method, curiously, emphasized all the more. Dahan is so devoted to his tawdry vision of Piaf as Our Lady of Sorrows that no inductive leap escapes him. To wit: we're treated to the heroine going blind, recovering her sight, and losing her childhood guardian in the span of fifteen minutes. Thelma Ritter in All About Eve: "Gee, what a story. Everything but the bloodhounds yappin' at her rear end."
Plus, as an old woman she looks like Quentin Crisp.