Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Birthday Take: Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose" (2007)

Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Marion Cotillard
Born: September 30, 1976 (40 years old)
Nomination: Best Actress (won) for La Vie en Rose as Edith Piaf

The Take

The thing about musician biopics is that they're a dime a dozen nowadays. You're likely to see a few pop up every year, unfairly forgotten at awards time. However, there has to be something for those that go above and beyond and create some of the more powerful images out there. Among the best of its kind, there was La Vie en Rose, a film that focused on the life of Edith Piaf. For a certain facet of audience members, it was an introduction to the French actress Marion Cotillard, who remains one of the more compelling crossover actors of the past decade. With supporting roles in films like Inception as well as an other Oscar nomination for Two Days, One Night, she has remained busy with an impressive amount of work. In fact, she's easily one of my favorites largely because her roles are interesting and could warrant their own conversation piece.

However, there's something in La Vie en Rose that isn't quite present in her work sense. Yes, films like Rust and Bone and Two Days, One Night feature her exploring an emotional range, but you are not nearly as convinced there as you are here. Her role as Piaf is so heartbreaking that you hear her sing the titular song and feel a certain sorrow singe through her veins. She makes the film powerful, choosing to give her all to a role of one of France's most famous singers. It is a story well told and while it failed to make much of a recognition elsewhere, it was enough to deservedly give her some recognition for the proceeding career. It's hard to really forget her after this film. Some say she was never able to tap into it again. I disagree, though the shock isn't quite there.

I am unsure exactly why Cotillard remains such a compelling force, especially last year with Two Days, One Night and the overlooked The Immigrant. Her voice is hushed, but her actions are loud and strong. She commands the screen whenever she is on. She is seductive in a manner that gets you excited. Even in the blockbuster films like The Dark Knight Rises, she provides something sinister to every line. Is she the best? That remains up for debate. However, she usually brings a force to her role. I think that she is charismatic enough to notice when her energy is needed and applies it nicely. It's why La Vie en Rose worked so well and why subsequent efforts have plenty of engaging moments. 

I think that a lot of it has to do with those quiet moments. It's when everything else around her seems to be crumbling and all she can do is react to the situation in silence. La Vie en Rose is full of tragedy. It's also full of hope through the power of song. Even if you don't go in recognizing who Piaf was, you're likely to have an appreciation for her struggle to gain relevance. She was ambitious and sought to make the world a better place. There's a certain passion that has to go into a role to make this look more plausible than convenience. Along with the traumatic struggles, it's just great acting that tops a career that has remained consistently good. Here's hoping that she only continues to impress as time goes on.

Cotillard has done a lot in the past 10 years to warrant a mention on the list of noteworthy performers. While she has some notoriously off putting remarks about political issues, her acting should be judged as something unique and compelling. More times than not, she produces quality work that gets under your skin and makes you excited to be watching cinema. La Vie en Rose may not be my favorite of hers, but it definitely embodies what she does best. She can make you emotionally wretched with a performance that looks effortless. She did it again with Two Days, One Night and will hopefully do it for years to come. However, I do think she is one of the few music biopic nominees to actually deserve her statue for some impressive work.

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