Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

11 July 2007

Duet du Cinema Française

Today: no movie. Instead another three episodes of Planet Earth, another fifty moments where I register complete disbelief at what I'm watching. This show is amazing. Today's episodes: "Shallow Seas", "Jungles" and "Great Plains."

Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose, a biopic of Edith Piaf, is an early contender for a Best Actress Oscar nomination next January. People are raving about Marion Cotillard's performance. I quite liked Cotillard as Piaf. Her physical transformation is astounding and her portrayal is rough around the edges, difficult, glamorous and very complex. The film, however, is a mess of formal devices. Dahan has decided to tell Piaf's life story without a narrative. This serves a couple of functions. It refuses the standard biopic narrative structure where a down and out performer makes it big, is brought low again and then rises back to the top in triumph. We've seen a hundred films that work in exactly this way and Dahan's narrative construction (which is to string events in Piaf's life together in what seems like a very haphazard manner) subverts this standard construction of the biopic. Consequently the audience is not allowed to credit Piaf's rise to the top to any one person, nor are we allowed to blame her early death on any one of her afflictions. The problem with all of this is that I never knew who many of the characters in the movie actually were because I wasn't introduced to them in the standard way. Pascal Greggory is in the movie and I still have no idea what his relationship with Piaf is in the film. Dahan's narrative structure also never allowed me to emotionally identify with Piaf.
I am sure this was his aim: unconventional storytelling, unconventional woman, avoid standard narrative tropes. But it all just served to confuse me. The movie jumps back and forth in time with such frequency thatI started to get really frustrated. I think, too, that I would have just allowed the change in times to wash over me and just go with the flow except that before some of the scenes, the date and location is shown onscreen. This tells me that it is important that I know both when and where I am. So I try to keep track as I'm watching the movie. Dahan seems to want it both ways. He wants me to care when and where I am while I watch, but he also wants me to think that time is unimportant in this phantasmagoria of scenes from Piaf's life. After a while it started to drive me crazy. I wanted to connect with Edith Piaf, but Dahan just wouldn't let me.

The other day I also watched François Truffaut's Baisers Volés (Stolen Kisses), the second in the series of Antoine Doinel films. I loved Baisers Volés. It doesn't pack the emotional wallop of The 400 Blows (the first in the series), but it is incredibly romantic. Antoine Doinel can't seem to hold down a job. He keeps taking on different careers and each seems funnier than the next. He just gets himself into difficult situation after difficult situation. I've never liked Jean-Pierre Léaud more than I liked him in this film. He is adorable and idiotic. This is a very funny comedy with all kinds of ridiculous farcical business and silly activity. I was charmed.