The Movie Binge

La Vie En Rose

An unreleased scene from Madonna's Erotica video

It just goes to show, no good can ever come from shaving off your eyebrows. There is only one tragedy which doesn't befall Edith Piaf during her morose, morphine-sodden Parisian lifetime, and that is as follows:

1. Bear Attack.

As far as I can tell, The Little Sparrow was never mauled to a bloody pulp by a grizzly. Lack of bears is about the only break life afforded this unlikely songbird, however. Well, if you don't count fame, wealth, and international acclaim. But who can enjoy being celebrated by the likes of Jean Cocteau when you've got all those nagging memories?

The past, the past! It's like it makes us who we are, or something. "Other memories are surfacing, not the ones I wanted to see," Edith eerily says from her deathbed. Is La Vie En Rose the a psychological thriller the likes of Duel, with French phenoms pursued through time by their own faceless, unrelenting recollections? Does La Vie suck and then La Mort?

Enter the grey, very grey (everyone here wears grey) world of Belleville in 1916. Edith is a snot-coated waif who could have just stepped out of a Save the Children commercial. Mom has delusions of stardom, while dad is your average, everyday contortionist about to join the army. Edith is soon left off at a French brothel, replete with stereotypical randy harlots who show you their bottoms and mete out nose thumbings with wild abandon.

Soon Edith finds her favorite whore bleeding to death, but can't actually see it happening because she has just been struck blind. At this point, you begin to suspect she may have had it rough. Life continues along these tragic lines, subsiding only for a few years during which she becomes awesomely super-famous. Then, the love of her life is killed in a plane crash. When she begins shooting morphine in 1951, you wonder if it will be enough.

Her genius is discovered by a nightclub owner (played by Gerard Depardiue) while she is belting out cabaret tunes in the street. Residents hang out of their windows and gratefully throw money at her. Unfortunately, it's not abundantly clear why they are so enchanted. It's like, "hey, she's Edith Piaf, everyone always loved her, okay?" The whole world seems to want to help this kid get famous, which is no small feat, as she supposedly "looks sick" and stands with her hips jutting forward like Ed Grimley. She skulks around the nightclubs, snarling at patrons and generally acting like a total drunken plustard. But the kid got pipes. She is mentored by a Henry Higgins-ish taskmaster who transforms her from feral vaudevillian into a high-class eccentric. When Marlene Dietrich calls Edie "the soul of Paris," you just know there is nowhere to go but down.

Edith sits in a rocking chair, the kind of chair that movie characters always sit in when they're about to die. At this point, the chatty old guy sitting behind me exhaled uncontrollably: "H'oh boy!" But the movie doesn't want to end on a bummer, at least out of compassion for all the elderly couples at my matinee. It focuses, instead, on Piaf's final performance at L'Olympia, zeroing in on her signature song "No Regrets" as its philosophical affirmation for a life better lived. It is her "My Way," her zen death poem. What else can you do as you cast off this mortal coil but remember your shitty life and come to peace with it?

"I can't go back," Edith says. And why in god's name would she want to? It's all a part of this kooky rollercoaster they call life — the car wrecks, alcoholic parents, dead lovers, murder charges, blindness, and bear attacks that befall all orphaned French prodigies before they become international singing sensations, shoot morphine into their neck, and die of cancer at age 47. Why do it any other way?