Monday, February 1, 2016

2007: Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose, aka La môme

In the second non-English language film to win this award, Marion Cotillard plays Edith Piaf, one of the most famous French singers of all time, through the ups and downs of her complicated, short life.

This movie is very confusing. It jumps around in time a lot and only sometimes tells us what year it is. I found it very difficult to keep all the minor characters straight, and it really didn't help that there were like three people named Louis. Maybe I would have gotten more out of it if I had known more about Edith Piaf beforehand, but I felt like parts of her life were glossed over too quickly to catch what was going on. I'll have to watch this again at some point to see if I follow it better, although it's not something I'll be able to watch over and over again because it's extremely depressing. I didn't particularly enjoy the film as a whole, but that's completely beside the point. I'm not here for the movie; I'm here for Cotillard's performance, and what a performance it is.

I haven't seen enough of Edith Piaf to gauge how well Marion Cotillard portrays her as a person, but that's usually not really the point of biopics like this. As far as embodying Edith Piaf the character, Cotillard is absolutely brilliant at every stage. From the fresh-faced 20-year-old street singer to the dying 47-year-old former star who looks about 30 years older than she is, and everything in between, her performance is spot on at all times. I particularly like how she changes her voice as she ages. In the scenes when she's in her 40s, between the makeup and her voice, not to mention her walk, she's barely recognizable. But while this transformation is very well executed and a vital component of this performance, it's by no means the only impressive aspect. Edith Piaf is a very complex character with a unique past that would ordinarily make her difficult to relate to, but Cotillard clearly understands her and makes her accessible to anyone. It would have been very easy to turn her into a caricature, but every time I thought she was approaching that line, Cotillard would give a look or adjust her posture or change her tone slightly so I'd go back to, Nope, still a real person.

Some of my frustration at the confusing nature of the disjointed story was alleviated when it was implied to be her jumbled thoughts and memories as she lay on her deathbed. There had been a few moments prior to that when I thought Cotillard might have gone a bit over-the-top, but looking at things from that perspective, it makes sense that some of her memories would be exaggerated, which leads me to think that even the few instances of minor overacting were intentional. This is one of those performances where if you think about it, everything must have been methodically planned and painstakingly rehearsed, but it appears effortless, as if she just woke up and stepped into her character's life. This is what Best Actress winning performances are supposed to be.

My only two criticisms, if you can call them that, are that she didn't do her own singing, and that I don't know how much of the effectiveness of her transformation is due to her makeup. But even though her voice wasn't actually used in the songs, she very effectively acted her singing, so that you really can't tell that she's not who you're hearing - particularly impressive given that much of the time it's the actual Edith Piaf that you're hearing. And the makeup won an Oscar, too, so at least both of the two best aspects of the film were recognized. Before watching this, I thought it was odd that it wasn't nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, but without Cotillard I don't know that it would even be worth watching, so it looks like the Academy got something right for once.

This was Cotillard's first Oscar nomination. So far she has been nominated once more, for 2014's Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night), a very different but also extremely impressive performance.

Next up: Kate Winslet

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