A stunning biopic of the life of Edith Piaf, powerful French chanteuse who was at the height of her fame in the 1960s. Marion Cotillard won no less than seven ‘Best Actress’ awards (including an Oscar) for this performance and it’s easy to see why. The film is full of power and pathos, Cotillard’s portrayal of the troubled and mercurial Piaf is utterly mesmerising. The film is in French with sub-titles but, for me, the performance in Piaf’s native tongue added to the drama of the movie.
The film traces Piaf’s life from her early days as a the young Edith Gassion in Paris. When Edith is abandoned by her mother, she is taken in by her paternal grandmother who earns her living as the Madame of a brothel. The young Edith is cared for by the prostitutes before being taken away by her father on his return from World War 1. Louis Gassion is a contortionist, but it is his daughter’s idiosyncratic and powerful singing voice which draws in the spectators. A chance meeting with nightclub owner Louis Leplée in 1935 sees Edith proverbially plucked from obscurity – her rise to fame had begun. It was Leplee who gave Edith the stage name La Môme Piaf (‘The Little Sparrow’), later to become simply Edith Piaf.
By all accounts, Piaf was not a conventionally beautiful woman, neither was she easy to work with. It was all about the voice; haunting, melancholic and powerful. A combination of drug addiction, illness and personal tragedy took their toll on Edith. She died of liver cancer in France aged just 47.
I don’t want to give away too much more of the singer’s life story here, as the film depicts it passionately. As to whether the film is accurate in terms of events, I have no idea. But I thoroughly enjoyed the movie – and Marion Cotillard is rather better at impersonating Edith Piaf than I seem to remember Esther Rantzen being!