Film Notes: LA VIE EN ROSE

7 p.m. Wednesday, June 10, 2015
53 Wall Street Auditorium
Introduction and Film Notes by Brian Meacham

Directed by Olivier Dahan (2007) 140 mins
Written by Olivier Dahan and Isabelle Sobelman
Cinematography by Tetsuo Nagata
Released by Picturehouse
Starring Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Paul Rouve, and Gerard Depardieu

Édith Piaf, one of the most popular and beloved singers of the twentieth century, had been the subject of previous films including Claude Lelouch’s ÉDITH ET MARCEL (1983), but before LA VIE EN ROSE, no film had attempted to tell the whole story of her fascinating and troubled life, from the slums of Paris to international stardom. As the director Olivier Dahan contemplated writing a screenplay about Piaf, he had Marion Cotillard in mind to play the international singing icon, saying that in Cotillard, he recognized Piaf’s eyes. LA VIE EN ROSE, and the critical reception to Cotillard’s performance, bore out his faith in her: “Marion Cotillard’s feral portrait of the French singer Édith Piaf as a captive wild animal hurling herself at the bars of her cage is the most astonishing immersion of one performer into the body and soul of another I’ve ever encountered in a film,” New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden wrote. Cotillard made her film debut in the early 1990s and came to Hollywood in the early 2000s, but it was her role as Piaf in LA VIE EN ROSE that brought her to international stardom. Her incandescent performance was awarded the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, the César, and the Oscar for Best Actress. Since then, Cotillard has become a major star, working with directors including Michael Mann, Woody Allen, Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, and the Dardenne Brothers.

THE LOOK: In order to play the diminutive Piaf, Cotillard underwent a massive physical transformation. She stands nearly a foot taller than the 4’8” Piaf, and not only had to make herself appear smaller on screen, but was also faced with the challenge of portraying Piaf between age 19 and her death at 47. To convincingly age over this long span of time required Cotillard to undergo an intense makeup regimen including numerous prosthetics and a bald cap. Despite the hours spent in makeup each day, Cotillard remarked that “I really liked it, even if sometimes I wanted to kill all those people around me, touching me, touching me. And all those smells. But sometimes, I felt like when I was a child. Since I was a child, I loved to act, and I remember when I was 10 and with this carefree-ness, you play a dog, you play an old lady, you play a man, you play just for fun, just to play. And it was almost the same feeling and the same carefree-ness with that role.”

THE MUSIC: Dahan insisted on using Piaf’s well-known original recordings in the film, and having Cotillard lip-sync along with them. At the same time, though, he also wanted more flexibility with the music than was allowed by the mono format in which the original 1940s and 1950s recordings were made. In order to be able to create a stereo surround mix using the original recordings, the filmmakers enlisted the help of the French audio engineering firm Audionamix, who developed a proprietary technology to pick out voices and instruments from within a single-channel recording and create individual audio tracks for use in a surround sound mix. With separate, isolated tracks for each part of the recording, the filmmakers were able to adjust the position of both Piaf’s voice and the orchestral instrumentation within the mix to fit with the angle and vantage point of each shot and create a convincing aural landscape. Composer Hans Zimmer later hired Audionamix to give the same treatment to Piaf’s recording of “Non, je ne regrette rien,” so he could slow down and deconstruct the opening musical notes to create his score for Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION, which starred, among others, Marion Cotillard.

DID YOU KNOW: Cotillard's Golden Globe win made her the only person to receive a Golden Globe for an acting performance in a foreign language. With her Academy Award win weeks later, she became the third French actress to receive an Oscar, after Simone Signoret (1960) and Juliet Binoche (1997), and the only winner of an Academy Award for a performance in the French language.

Presented in the Treasures from the Yale Film Archive series with support from Paul L. Joskow '70 M.Phil., '72 Ph.D. Printed Film Notes are distributed to the audience before each Treasures screening.

Last modified: 
Monday, April 10, 2023 - 2:06pm