Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Evening with La Vie En Rose

I have a few days off, ostensibly to finish a short story draft and generally get my life organized, but have been, as usual, not very productive. But also not unproductive in that deliciously relaxing and lazy "at least I got cleared my head and got some reading done" way. In addition to apartment obsession, I left work with a large question mark hanging over my head (it's promotion time, and my review isn't until I get back later this week) that I think I'm not bothered by, but which is creeping into my dreams. I need a vacation from my brain.

Sounds like a perfect week to go to the movies. I seriously would have packed in 6 movies in 6 days, if only there were 6 I wanted to see (and haven't yest seen.) Summer is tough, as I have no interest in children's movies or in action movies, and the selection of independents is fairly light. But in addition to "Sicko," I have managed to catch "Evening" and "La Vie En Rose."

"Evening" is, sadly, not very good. It has some wonderful actors: Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Natasha Richardson. Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep's daughter, plays - well, not it's not really appropriate to call her a younger version of Meryl Streep's character, since the younger has twenty times more screen time than her mother. I don't think I've ever seen her act, and I was distracted by noticing how much she looks like her mother: the tiny close set eyes, the small mouth, the long aristocratic nose. Sadly she doesn't have her mother's glorious cheekbones, but she has at least some of her talent.

As I said, all of the acting was pretty good, but the story is pretty weak. I'm not sure how much it follows the novel, but following the movie was one unsurprising plot turn after another. I think I've seen/read this story a hundred times, and it never really gets any more interesting. Too bad, because it's not often you have this caliber a group of women together on screen.

"La Vie En Rose" is a biography of Edith Piaf. Like all bio-films of famous artists, it has the obligatory sad childhood, artistic struggle, and rise and fall of success and fame. Illness, drug addiction, death, despair. You know the drill. Like most bio-films of famous artists, the acting is stellar - good thing, as the entire film always hangs on that one central performance.

But it's still a genre that leaves me cold. I've said this before, but I don't like to rush past someone's life for two hours, only hitting the high notes and the low notes, grabbing onto plot milestones while most character development is, by necessity, left by the wayside. The French writer director Oliver Dahan tries to mix up the standard formula by tossing in scenes out of sequence; we flit from the 30's to the 60's to the 50's and back again. This makes for an element of confusion (did this scene happen before that other scene, or after?) which at the time seemed preferable to a straight forward boring narrative, but in retrospect I'm not sure. It made it even more difficult to embrace the character, as she was constantly changing. I think if you forgo chronological structure you need to have some kind of emotional curve, and that, too, was somewhat of a mess.

Still, Marion Cotillard's Edith Piaf on her deathbed was much more powerful than Vanessa Redgrave's fictional Ann on hers. And surely, if you are a fan of Edith Piaf's singing (all of which is lip-synced by Cotillard in the film), it's something.


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