The only surprise in writer/director Olivier Dahan’s warts & all bio-pic of French chanteuse Edith Piaf is how conventional it is. With a cavalcade of crises, deprivation, drugs, destitution, illnesses & personal loss, it’s hard to miss with ‘the little sparrow,’ but Dahan certainly tries. The camera jumps around along with his out-of-order chronology, but it’s all mere narrative posturing to fold her mess of a life into a standard dramatic arc. We’re not all that far away from Hollywood fare like ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE/’39. I’LL CRY TOMORROW/’55, FUNNY GIRL/’68 or LADY SINGS THE BLUES/’72. Right down to those de rigueur but hopelessly phony standing ovations in NYC nightclubs. Fortunately, most of the period details are better than that and the large supporting cast is often memorable. Better yet, Marion Cotillard is so riveting as Piaf that you even forgive her shoddy lip-synching.
NOTE: The American release has no sub-titles for the song lyrics which makes it hard to follow the dramatic parallels between Piaf’s art & life. ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ is Piaf at her most transcendent if you know the words, but little more than an abysmal Pop song if you don’t.