When my Dad announced that he’d taped a subtitled French film for us to watch on a Saturday night I was, I will admit, dismayed. One might even go so far as to say that I was appalled. A French film? French? Really? Oscar-winner my foot – I just wanted to watch Kung Fu Panda . . .
I was determined not to like the film, and nurtured a faint hope that if I fidgeted about in my seat enough, it might get turned off and replaced with something better.
The fact that the recording had cut the first few minutes off didn’t make it any easier to get into for it seemed to start with a little kid running amok in a brothel – how very French, right? But then she was taken away by her father to join the circus, and suddenly the film was interesting. I’ve never been so engrossed in a film that wasn’t in English before. What I loved so much about it was the sense of melancholy captured not only by the truly outstanding acting, but through the music and cinematography as well. It reminded me a bit of Chaplin in terms of its nostalgia. The locations, too, were stunning, ranging from the slums of Paris to the glittering theatres of New York, spanning the 1930’s to the 1960’s and perfectly recreating a sense of lost glamour from yesteryear – all long gloves and cigarettes from when smoking was still elegant rather than a mark of – dare I say it – silliness (hurriedly apologises to all my smoking friends – you know I love you guys really).
Marion Cotillard is amazing as Edith Paif. Whilst I was watching it I half thought that perhaps the older version of the singer was being played by another actress altogether. It wasn’t just the effect of make up but the way she moved and spoke – even her voice sounded different. Her transition from vulnerable, wide-eyed teenager to a strong, forceful woman is incredible. A performance utterly deserving of an Oscar if ever I saw one. The sad parts of the film are gut-wrenching but the occasional sweet, tender moment is all the better for the fact that it is understated and never becomes cloying.
I thought about this film for days after watching it and ordered the DVD the same night. I can tell it’s probably going to become a film I obsess over a bit – the same way I obsess over Amadeus. I can watch that film and enjoy it; be fascinated and intrigued by it; totally lose myself in the magic of the story; read up all about Mozart (or, in this case, Edith Paif) and his life (or hers) . . . and then feel thoroughly miserable for the next week. But it is totally worth it.
Really, it just goes to show that when it comes to music, books or film, my dear ‘ol Dad really is my Sam-I-Am, and I’m a fool for ever hesitating to trust his excellent judgement. La Vie en Rose is a masterpiece and I’m extremely glad he made me watch it.