The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Little Sparrow Sings

I almost begrudge 'The Sparrow' for having been so colossal (she was only 1m40 tall). Nobody can measure up to her. She is the French singer - for whom the world is still searching a for heiress in vain. But Piaf was more than just Piaf, she came after a period which had engendered Cocteaus, Sartres, Chagalls... And she herself gave birth to Montands, Aznavours, Becauds... Piaf was France. A France without marketing, promotion, a hit parade...simply talent and, above all, passion." -- Jude Quinten, Edith Piaf Fans Facebook

Greetings, billion-eyed audience, yes; this past weekend we--me, and partner-in-art-for-life Amie Oliver--attended a few offerings of the VCU French Film Festival at the Byrd Theatre.

La Vie en Rose, the Piaf bio-pic (original: La Mom, wasn't on the official schedule, but put on the marquee with knowledge.) And my goodness, what a film. I tell you, after seeing such grim and depressing fare as No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood, I was in an odd way heartened and heart-broken by seeing an artist self-destruct before my very eyes. Oh, we know the world itself is doomed; but when it is reduced to a real person whose talent couldn't overcome her physiological issues (including crippling arthritis and liver cancer), then, well, that's a whole different story. That's somebody we know.

Say what you will about Marion Cotillard and the aide of prosthetics--this woman was astonishing. Lip synching is lip synching though; and I think: well, Sissy Spacek sang for Coal Miner's Daughter -- but she had a voice performance background; Jessica Lange was lip synched for Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams. And we can go on. None of them were Edith Piaf.

The cast was excellent, but I have a special place for tall, gangly girls, and Sylvie Testud, who played Piaf's quasi-half-sister-lesbian protector--who couldn't save Piaf from herself, was just superb and a brilliant counter balance to the dynamic petite Piaf/Cotillard--and Cotillard isn't as tiny.

The film's approach to the biopic was quite good, arresting, and I've thought of this method in thinking how a film about Edgar Allan Poe should go. The film is non-linear and more about memories and stream of consciousness. You set this up against The Aviator, for example, and as good as that was, it comes off a bit anemic. And I love me some Scorsese, but, that's how I see it. A Beautiful Mind had a bit more to work with, I think. Whatever the case, to get a movie made of your life means you had through quite a life, and sometimes not a good one, or a long one.

At the end of Piaf's professional career, her body was so afflicted by arthritis, that she had to be placed on stage at the microphone. The curtain opened to reveal her standing there. She sang like her life depended on it. And, it did.

Other films we viewed included Volker Schlondorff's Ulzhan, featuring the amazing Ayanat Ksenbai alongside a friend of the French Film Festival, Philippe Torreton. This is not Borat's Kazakhstan. Oh, no. This is post-Soviet industrial wasteland mixed with tribal culture and Vegas. And given the spate of glum films here, though this story is also terse and dour, at least there's some hope that life is worth living, or, at least you have the choice to be loved or not.

We were also able to see Ensemble, c'est tout that had the benefit of
Audrey Tautou, who should need no introduction. Some serious themes of, well, what we should do with our lives since we have them, and how to confront the inevitable end, how art and aesthetics mediate these differences, are presented here with grace and humor.

Laurent Stocker all but steals the show as an actor without a theater, or a museum docent without a museum, who instead curates the remains of his family fortune and with drama recites the tale. If the film were U.S., his character would be gay, but he isn't here--just lonely and theatrical.

Audrey Tautou's character cuts her hair in a fit of distress into a Amélie bob.

More to come, but to bed.

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