I’ve posted briefly about this film before, when I spoke of films set in Paris. However, I think a film like La Môme deserves an entry all its own. I saw this film in the theatre 3 or 4 times, taking as many people as I could convince.
The film begins in New York in the later years of Édith Piaf’s career. She’s singing Heaven Have Mercy, and in the midst of her performance, collapses on stage. If you aren’t already familiar with Édith’s life, this traumatic collapse is startling. It sets the scene for a life that was hardly rosy. It then regresses, to her childhood in Belleville, living in a brothel, and traveling with her father in the circus.
My favourite part of the film is Édith’s meeting and falling in love with the boxer Marcel Cerdan. Cerdan was played by the musician and actor Jean-Pierre Martins.
This is perhaps the rosiest time of her life: she’s at the height of her fame, living richly, recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, and she’s in love. The affair itself made headlines, as Cerdan was famous in his own right, a champion in his sport. He was also married. Their letters to each other (published in the book ‘Moi Pour Toi: Lettres d’amour’) were sweet and charming, and as portrayed in the film, their relationship was one of immense passion.
In a letter, Cerdan wrote to her: Je t’aime, t’aime, t’aime, oui, je t’aime. He often addressed her as ‘Édith, chérie‘, or ‘Édith adorée‘, and she would write to him ‘Mon Seigneur que j’aime.’
Their romance played out in cabs, restaurants, the boxing hall, and hotels, whenever they had a chance to be together. The scene where Édith finds out about Marcel’s death (he was killed in a plane crash in 1949) was so well done it brought tears to my eyes.
The film follows Édith’s life from childhood through highs and lows, and finally to her death in Grasse in 1963, at age 47. It was my favourite film of 2007-8, and I was glad that Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for her performance as Piaf. I had hoped it would have been nominated and won far more awards at the Oscars (it won for Makeup as well), but Cotillard won a Golden Globe and it was well-recognized at the Césars. It’s a film I would recommend to anyone, even those who don’t like subtitled or foreign films. Piaf’s voice was like no other and the film is an excellent introduction to her oeuvre.