My current Top 5

My current Top 5

6/28/2010

Best Actress 2007: Marion Cotillard in "La Môme"

When Marion Cotillard won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Môme, she became only the second woman to receive this honor for a foreign-language movie. Besides having to overcome the language barrier, Marion Cotillard also had to prevail against favorite Julie Christie who had (mostly) dominated the award season so far. But in the end it shouldn’t be a surprise that she could turn her ‘dark-horse’-status into a glorious victory. Hers is one of the most astonishing tour-de-forces that was ever captured on the screen, a miracle in technical perfection and a firework of emotional truth.

From her years as a young woman singing in the streets of Paris to her last bedridden moments of life, Marion Cotillard gets so deep into the soul and mind of this artist who combined a lust for life and the stage with a terrifying self-destruction that her work leaves the concept of the usual biopic-performance far behind and turns into something much more real, much more authentic and almost frighteningly perfect. She never lets the images or characteristics of Edith Piaf control her performance but instead works from the inside to create a woman who, as if by accident, turns out to be that famous singer.

In the part of a woman who couldn’t be more temperamental, loud, obnoxious and almost unlikable, Marion Cotillard never asks for the audience’s sympathy but her presentation of Edith is so believable and decipherable that she brings the character as close to the viewer as humanly possible and that way makes it impossible to be denied this sympathy. Even in her most senseless outbursts of anger and frustration, Edith Piaf remains a character that is understandable and human. Just as all the people around her are fascinated by this difficult woman, Marion Cotillard also expands this fascination beyond the movie screen. She dominates the movie with a seldom seen screen presence and confidence that allows her to work herself through the impossibly difficult tasks of the script which would have been insuperable for almost every actress.

From a simple technical point of view this performance is already a superlative. At each stage in Edith’s life, Marion Cotillard catches every nuance of this character. The voice, the walk, her behavior – everything slowly changes but Marion Cotillard keeps the spirit and the inner fire alive. The contrasts of the young Edith, awkwardly entering a stage for the first time, and the old Edith, lying in her bed, brought down by drugs and the tragedies of her life, is so immense that it seems impossible that this is really the same actress. In a role that was destined to be a disaster, Marion Cotillard's performance gets everything astonishingly right. Over all the years of her live, she creates both Edith Piaf the artist and Edith Piaf the woman – and showed how close they were connected and how love has constantly dominated her work and how her work has constantly dominated her love. Her performance is filled with a breathtakingly amount of passion and detail that makes it such a masterwork in complexity and honesty, from her way of admiring Leplée’s polished nails to her inability to use a knife and a fork when drugs have almost destroyed her.

Right from the start, Marion Cotillard shows that Edith Piaf is a woman who enjoys life even though it does not offer very much to her. Living in poverty and being surrounded by violence and desolateness, Edith can only use one thing: her voice. Even though her pronunciations isn’t perfect, her voice immediately calls for attention. In these early scenes, Marion Cotillard already shows that Edith has a certain tendency for over-activity, a larger-than-life character who doesn’t know any boundaries and who wants to live according to her own rules even though her life is controlled by others. Marion Cotillard’s performance is always one that, just like Edith, seems to know no boundaries – she is absolutely willing to completely let go and live every moment of her work with a fascinating intensity, a constant walk on the thin line between true characterization and appalling caricature where she never makes a false step.

Marion also shows another feature of Edith that she will keep for her whole, short life – an impossible stubbornness, an unwillingness to compromise, a constant insistence on her own views and opinions. Edith is certainly not an intelligent woman and considering her up-bringing, there is no reason why she should be. This stubbornness could so easily keep her from entering the stage and becoming a world-wide sensation – it’s only the support of others that is bringing her to the place she is but the movie also makes clear that Edith’s talent and her voice are the driving force of her existence. Marion Cotillard is not afraid to show that Edith owes everything to others but never thanks them for it – Edith is solely an artist who lives for her work while everything around her seems not to matter. Just like June Carter tells Johnny Cash in Walk the Line: ‘No, things don’t work themselves out. Others work them out for you and you just think they work themselves out’. It seems that artists on the level of Johnny Cash or Edith Piaf cannot exist in the real world but are a construct of others. Marion Cotillard wonderfully shows how this stubbornness slowly turns into the eccentricities of a true diva as the years go on and she achieves a status where she can decided for herself and ignore everyone and everything. Edith has changed so much in the process of becoming a great star and Marion Cotillard captures all this again in an acting style that never holds back or doubts its own tendencies to be larger-than-life – she completely embraces Edith and what she is. Like a volcano, Edith can erupt any moment.

But she also finds the exact right way to express the quiet moments of Edith’s life. Her shy happiness when she receives praise from Marlene Dietrich is just a short moment but one that brings Edith again very close to the viewer’s heart. Her scenes with Marcel are as romantic as they are strange. Only a woman like Edith could so completely give all her love at once that it seems to become an obsession for her. Still, Marion Cotillard’s eyes, that can express so much with so little, always show the longing and need for love and support. It’s almost surreal to see Edith so happy since the movie uses every opportunity to show the tragedies and sorrows of her live and the scenes with Marcel are so hunting because the viewer already knows what will become of Edith in later years and that this relationship can’t end well. In her most famous scene, done in one incredibly long take, Marion Cotillard again doesn’t ask for sympathy when she walks through her apartment like a fury, looking for a watch until she finally learns a devastating truth – in a scene that would have been so easy to get wrong, Marion Cotillard gets everything right by letting her emotions overcome herself and the audience. It’s a moment of epic proportions, of an overwhelming grief that is unforgettable and will forever rank among the great scenes in movie history.

Everything in this performances comes so natural to Marion Cotillard – tears, laughter, desperation, happiness, at all different ages and stations in Edith’s life. In the tradition of the great larger-than-life characters like Norma Desmond or Jean Brodie, she finds exactly the right way to portray Edith to make it as real as possible while also adding a sense of theatricality that shows that this is not a documentary but a portrayal of a real character that tries to bring together everything Edith Piaf was in a highly stylized way.

And Marion Cotillard doesn’t forget that, above all, she was an artist. The same way she captures the woman behind the well-known images, she embodies these images, too. The scenes on the stage are simply wonderful as Marion never acts, but totally lives these moments. She may be lip-synching but it’s done with so much passion and realism and the speaking voice of Marion fits so perfectly to the singing voice of Edith, that the illusion is perfect. In these moments, Marion makes it understandable why this woman is so drawn to the stage, why she has to go out there, why she would risk her life for it. Because this is her life, without the stage, there is nothing. Not even love can replace this need.

At the end, Marin Coillard has created one of the most complete characters in a movie that so annoyingly jumps from scene to scene, from old Edith to young Edith and back again that her performance could so easily have been destroyed but she survives all this to find the humanity behind the make-up. When the beginning notes of ‘Je nre regrette rien’ are heard for the first time and Marion shows with a heartbreaking wonderment Edith’s reaction to this song that so perfectly captures her life, it is a chilling moment as the audience is already aware how much this song will define her image for the years to come. And when she finally returns to the stage and sings the song, the images of her friends and supporters over the years are a perfect mirror for the audience in front of the screen. Like them, we feel that we have known this woman all her life, been with her though every moment and it’s overwhelming to see her on the stage again, this little woman whose voice can fill the greatest hall and touch the most cynical heart.

This is a performance that is destined to go down in movie history. A grandiose, gigantic, colossal and volcanic piece of work that illuminates the screen and, like few other performances before, reaches to completely new levels of excellence. For this, Marion Cotillard naturally gets

8 comments:

Louis Morgan said...

Wow, you certainly like her a lot. I myself have not seen her yet, but from what I have read it certainly is a divisive performance.

Robert said...

I'm glad you loved her! She is one of my favorites and i'm in the camp of people that agree with her win. haha. Great write up, reminded me how much I love her performance!

joe burns said...

FANTASTIC REVIEW! I've said before that writers write their best pieces when it comes to something that they really like.

I really need to rewatch her performance since I remember saying to my sister after it was over "She didn't even deserve a nomination", but she pretty much said she disagreed with me. So, I talked myself into saying she was great. But in truth, I probably didn't appreciate it enough since I hated the film so much. And I've had mixed reactions to clips I've seen of her performance so again, a rewatch is greatly needed!

And her life sounds a lot like Judy Garland's from what your review said about her life, although Judy's was probably a little more happier.

Sage Slowdive said...

Fritz definitely makes a great argument for someone like me! :)

Fritz said...

@Louis; Yes, performances like this always tend to divide the viewers. Some love it, others find it over-the-top.

@Robert: Thanks and I am happy that you agree!

@Joe: Thanks a lot! Yes, she somehow seems like a French Judy Garland. And interestingly, I hade the same reaction you had towards Judy in A Star is Born! Like you said, a re-watch is needed!

@Sage: Well, that's probably the greatest compliment I can get (but I don't think that I will ever get you on "my" side, lol)

Malcolm said...

I knew it!

She's going to get the highest ranking!

I haven't seen her, I can't see her, but it's a performance that raise my interest so much. And the Marcel scene is just chilling.

Kit van Cleave said...

Louis Morgan and others: Controversy may have developed around LA VIE EN ROSE, which director Olivier Dahan not only expected, but predicted. He was making a Piaf film for the French, not for an international market. The French know everything there is to know about Piaf. Thus, his "emotional biolgraphy" did not cover all aspects of Piaf's life, and used time shifts to emphasize points.

No one I read EVER suggested there was a controversy about Cotillard's performance as one of the iconic of the new century. To wit, the political right in the US immediately attempted on March 10 to destroy her reputation and career with a loopy misinterpretation of her remarks on a February 2007 CANAL "on the tpwn" documentary. This was cut short when friends, fans, family, and those who favor free speech took up her cause. The firestorm was over by March 13 but occasionally raises its ugly head on the interNet.

Cotiillard's performance in LA VIE EN ROSE was only an introduction of this remarkable French artist to an international audience. Her work since has underlined her astute choice of roles, directors, and fellow cast members. Cotillard is the film artist of her time.

TekGirl said...

I love this movie, watched it just the other night for the umpteenth time. Marion Cotillard is a treasure.