Movie: La Môme (La Vie en Rose)

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.

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 7: Movies set in Paris

Sometimes I get a little homesick for Paris. Strange, considering I’ve only been there once, and that was some time ago. But, every once in a while I need to watch a film (or two) set in Paris to get my fix.

First up, the very excellent Before Sunset. It stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and is the sequel to Before Sunrise (set in Vienna). I’m not a huge fan of either Hawke or Delpy, but I just can’t get enough of this film. It’s a pas de deux; Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) meet again in Shakespeare & Co., 9 years after they failed to meet up again in Vienna six months after their first meeting. It’s a very quiet film; there’s not much drama, but a lot of talking. It probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoy its intimacy.

Second, La Vie En Rose (La Môme), starring Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf. The role won Cotillard the Best Actress Oscar, an award incredibly well-deserved. I took everyone I knew to see it in the theatre, merely as an excuse to see it again. Gerard Depardieu also stars, and Jean-Pierre Martins (from the French rock group Silmarils) played Piaf’s lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan. I’d listened to some of Piaf’s songs before, but this film cemented my admiration and love of chanson. Cotillard lip-syncs, but it would have been difficult for her to match Piaf’s unique voice. Unlike Before Sunset, La Vie En Rose is full of drama; Piaf’s life began in Belleville, and her father was a circus actor, her mother a singer. She traveled with the circus until her father left her with family at a brothel. When she returned to Paris she eked out a living singing in the street, where she was discovered. That part of her life alone would be enough for a film, but there’s more. Always more.

And third, the film Fauteuils d’orchestre (Avenue Montaigne), with Cécile de France, Albert Dupontel, Dani, Sydney Pollack and Valérie Lemercier. Jessica (de France) comes to Paris and finds work in a café across from an arts complex. An art auction, a piano concert and a Feydeau play are occurring on the same evening, and the resulting meetings of all the other characters with the cheerful Jessica are the meat of the film. The interconnectedness is charming; it’s a film that never fails to leave me smiling.

So there you are: three films that help evoke Paris for me. Do you have a place you’re fond of? Or is there a film that evokes a remembrance of a favourite place?