2007; Writer-director: Olivier Dahan
With Marion Cotillard, Gerard Depardieu, Marcel Barbe
HBO Home Video
Available Nov. 13, List Price $27.95
Expect a clamor at year's end for Cotillard to secure an Oscar nomination for her impersonation of the legendary chanteuse from teenager to her death at 47. It's quite a performance, acute and daring, though less by the actress than by the makeup artists who transformed the robust Cotillard, who's 5 ft. 6 and has voluptuous features, into the 4 ft. 8, bird-faced "little sparrow."
Piaf's life is a bio-pic maker's dream: raised on the streets and in a brothel, consorting with gangsters who rubbed out her first impresario, falling in love with the married boxer Marcel Cerdan, becoming addicted to morphine, riddled with infirmities throughout her mature years, Piaf poured all her toughness and pain into her performances. Dayan jumps from one melodramatic incident to another, shuffling the sequence of tenses, as if we all know her story (as all her fans do) and need only glimpses of time and place to situate us. The movie is like an iTunes player on Random. At times it has the power of its subject, and is best when sticking to showbiz cliches (Barbe as Raymond Asso, teaching Piaf the fine points of performance) or showing Cotillard lip-synching to Piaf songs that are as familiar to the French as "La Marseillaise."
Given this one-disc DVD's steep list price, you'd expect copious extras, but there's only a 7 min. backgrounder with Dahan and Cotillard. I was disappointed that the DVD didn't have what the movie lacked: extensive footage of the real star. For tangy taste of the Piaf charisma, go to YouTube, which has TV and movie clips of Piaf singing "Milord," "No, je ne regrette rien," "Hymne a l'amour" and "La vie en rose." Try to watch them in chronological order, to trace her heroic, self-lacerating journey from belligerent youth to accomplished spellbinder to poignant invalid magic she wove is in these moments, not in the movie.
P.S.: Again the trailers are mandatory. And on this disc, unlike the Shrek, you can't fast-forward through them.