VIE EN ROSE, LA – BIRTH OF A CREATIVE SPARK
Like a sudden thirst, you can get a creative spark anywhere, anytime; for
Olivier Dahan it came with a photo of a young Edith Piaf, glanced when flicking
through a book in a bookstore. He sent a text message to a producer …. Three
years and five months later his film of her life opened the Sydney Film
JANUARY 22, 2004, 3.46 PM: Writer-director Olivier Dahan sends a text message to
his friend and producer Alain Goldman: "I wanted to make a film about what
drives an artist. I was in a bookstore flicking through a book about Piaf when
the idea suddenly came to me. I immediately sent a text-message to Alain
Goldman. Five minutes later, he gave me the green-light. He was right with me
from the get-go. In fact, he got back to me so fast, I wondered for a moment
what I'd got myself into!"
Alain Goldman: "I was keen to work with Olivier again. We're very close,
professionally and personally, but I didn't have anything lined up with him.
Then, on January 22, 2004, at 3:46 pm, I received a text-message from him, which
read, "A movie about music and love. A tragic, romantic blockbuster. French
subject matter, international appeal. A major film about Piaf." That sums up the
movie perfectly. I kept that message, that initial impulse, as a reference.
During the writing process, and even further down the line, if we strayed away
from it, we could go back to that basic precept. I immediately sensed that we
would make the movie, that it would probably open up perspectives and that
Olivier's text-message would remind us that we had believed."
"no barrier between her life and her art"
Olivier Dahan: "For me, Piaf is the perfect example of someone who places no
barrier between her life and her art. The fusion between your existence and work
is the very foundation of a true artist. Like everybody else in France, I knew
some of her songs and something about her life, but no more than that. She was
the ideal "in" for me to talk about what concerns me. The spark came when I saw
a photo of her, as a young woman, walking in the street with her friend Momone.
Few people have ever seen what she looked like so young. The prevailing image of
her is from the 50s and 60s – the frail icon in the black dress. That photo gave
me a glimpse of somebody completely different, who wasn't yet Edith Piaf and who
intrigued me. I pictured a kind of bridge between the prevailing image and that
photo of an uncut diamond."
Alain Goldman: "Filming a celebrated life is always a long process. Vatel and
1492 taught me that it takes roughly a year to research and digest all the
necessary information, and find an interesting narrative form. At first,
Olivier, who is very visual and intuitive, didn't want to write the film. I had
to convince him to do it. I needed his precision, his grasp of what is
essential. I knew he'd have some very personal things to say in the film –
things which he alone could express. It was his unique vision of Piaf's life
that interested me."
Olivier Dahan: "I read everything ever written about her, published or not, from
her lifetime to the present day. At the same time, I started to write, combining
what stood out for me in my reading and what I wanted to express beyond the
question of Piaf's life. I think I have a good idea of what an artist feels –
whether it's Piaf or any other. Apprehension, anxiety, desire... I didn't want
to make a bio-pic, but I did want everything that was in the movie to be real.
It's just that, at certain points, especially concerning her childhood, which
she rarely discussed, I extrapolated, using the few elements at my disposal."
Alain Goldman: "As the script took shape, I saw how Piaf's life was even more
dramatic than one of her songs - a tragedy with a little bit of everything!
Abandoned and raised in a brothel; blind, briefly, in childhood; on the road
with her father, before winding up in the Pigalle district of Paris at the prey
of a pimp. And just when her career takes off, she is accused of murder and has
to start back at the bottom. The greatest novelist couldn't have dreamed up a
better story. Piaf is one of those rare performers with universal appeal – men,
women, young, not so young... And not because she appeals to baser instincts.
She elevates us. Her voice fascinates people across social and cultural
barriers. Everybody can identify with her. Piaf is an icon, a beacon and we need
her more than ever today. Her unique stature goes far beyond our borders. That's
why the film has brought interest from so many countries, including
English-speaking territories that often remain impervious to French movies."
Olivier Dahan: "During my research, I accumulated lots of facts and, above all,
the confirmation of my initial intuition. Piaf is undeniably the archetype of an
artist. Generally, when artists begin to self-destruct, their art regresses. In
that sense, Piaf is an exception. As her body waned, her art rose higher, became
purer. That's pretty rare. Even in decline, everything was there in her voice
and her will to sing and perform as never before. She never gave up. I don't
believe in the tormented artist. Like everybody else, Piaf clearly had happy
times, even when you would least expect. I don't agree that being unhappy is a
prerequisite to being a great artist, or even an artist. On the contrary, you
have to work at not being unhappy. In many biographies, the subject's childhood
is skimmed over. Yet, those early years condition the rest of our lives. The key
often lies in childhood.
"her honesty and acute judgment"
Almost every scene we shot, including the dialogue, comes from the first
draft. I reworked the structure of the script, but not the content. The opening
scene is exactly as I began the script. In her writing and speech, Piaf
expressed herself very well. I used her words for the dialogue. She went
straight to the point without any verbiage. I read her correspondence, including
the unpublished letters, and I was struck by the quality of her writing, her
honesty and acute judgment.
"Despite the fact that she was hugely famous, for me, the subject of the film
was very intimate because I put into the film exactly what I wanted to say. I
never felt overwhelmed by her stature. I wanted to paint a portrait. Telling her
life-story didn't interest me per se. The events I show help to build up the
portrait. I always tried to be truthful, respectful, connecting with her,
without idealizing her. She never idealized herself or her art. When I was
writing, I made a point of not meeting anybody who had known her personally. One
day, Ginou Richer, who was Piaf's best friend for twenty years, got in touch. I
sent her the script, thinking that this was the real test. She called me to say
that I wasn't wrong about the character. I saw the whole process as a kind of
dig, piecing something together without knowing whether the result would be
exactly how it was. Even so, my approach wasn't that of an archaeologist but – I
hope – that of an artist concerned not to misrepresent people and events. I
wanted to express things about the character that were true and exact, in my own
way, without betraying her or having to choose between the two approaches. All
that I wanted to express freely, through her or with her, had to come out of her
Published July 12, 2007
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Australian release: July 12, 2007
LA VIE EN ROSE
Written & directed by Olivier Dahan
After a troubled childhood, Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard) begins singing for
money in the streets of Pigalle with her best friend Mômone (Sylvie Testud),
where she is discovered by nightclub owner Louis Leplee (Gérard Dépardieu).
Giving her the nickname Little Sparrow (La Môme Piaf), he also introduces her to
all the right people including songwriter Marguerite Monnot (Marie-Armelle Deguy)
and manager Louis Barrier (Pascal Greggory). Her love affair with married boxing
champ Marcel Cedan (Jean-Pierre Martins) ends in tragedy and despite constant
ill-health and a battle with booze and drugs, Piaf’s unique voice and waif-like
persona make her a star.