Marion Cotillard received her first Oscar nomination and won the Oscar for playing Edith Piaf, the famous French singer who captured the heart of a nation, in La Vie En Rose.
6 years ago, Julie Christie's performance as an Alzheimer's patient in Away From Her was easily the frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar. She had swept the early precursors, taking 13 critics prizes including the B.C.C.A as well as the the Golden Globe for Best Actress In A Motion Picture Drama. Throughout the early season, Ellen Page in Juno and Marion Cotillard were her closest competitors, with Cotillard taking 4 critics prizes and Page taking 9. But when the G.G for Best Actress In A Motion Picture Musical Or Comedy went to Marion Cotillard, it seemed as if Marion had edged out Page as Christie's competition. When Christie triupmhed at SAG over both of them though, most seemed to think that Julie was assured. But when the BAFTA awards honored the French born Cotillard instead of British born Christie, it suddenly gave Marion a huge burst of last minute momentum that (as well as the fact that Oscar voters were wowed by her performance, thinking that she won't win, but easily should) was enough to put her over the top, beating Christie whose performance was probably too subtle and understated to take the prize. I also think that voters may have gone away thinking that Christie's role is too small compared to on-screen husband Gordon Pinsent.,who becomes the focus of the film after Christie is sent to a recovery center.
La Vie En Rose was a film I hated the first time I saw it. The film was a huge mess to me and at the time, I had no appreciation or interest in Edith Piaf's life. Now, my feelings have changed. It's strategy of throwing Edith's life around still is a questionable choice, but there are definitely things to appreciate about the film. It's extremely well made and it is sort of interesting to see the different moments in Edith's life, never knowing what's next.
Marion Cotillard's performance is an example of how an actress can brilliantly transform herself into a part and produce amazing results. During Entertainment Weekly's yearly article where Oscar voters give their picks annomoyously, an Oscar voter stated that "there was no trace of Marion in that. It was all Edith Piaf". Nothing could be a better description of this performance. Marion's fierce, blazing commitment to the role is so powerful, so immense that there is never any obviousness in her acting. It's an incredibly physical performance because Marion so totally throws herself into Edith, capturing all of her physical mannerisms and her style of performing. It may seem somewhat exaggerated in the beginning, but Marion easily makes this work in the context of the film. The fact that Marion can so convincingly play Edith as an old, drugged out woman, as a energetic, clownish like woman in the beginning, and then as a stage diva is a true testament to her abilities as an actress. As an actor myself, I'd love to know how Marion was able to change her body so tremendously and effectively.
The emotional aspects of the performance are enormously admirable as well. One thing that can be said is that Marion was not afraid to make the character unlikeable. Edith is a loud, abrasive woman whose diva-like antics are rather unlikeable and Marion stays committed to the character's truth. She also is wonderful in her scenes with Marcel. You can tell that Edith is so happy here and Marion is radiant and wonderful to watch. She perfectly captures the stubbornness that Edith had later in her life, the refusal to give up on her audience, the desire to keep going. Her huge, emotional outbursts can be considered over the top, but I thought that they perfectly ft the character and Marion plays them powerfully and with brutal honesty. I also love her scenes when she is having fun with her friends and the interview on the beach. There is, again, incredible emotional honesty and a wonderful, radiant quality to her scene on the beach, just quietly enjoying the sunset. It's simple, wonderful work.
The one thing that may hold her back is her film. She is incredible in every aspect of Edith's life, but the fact that the film's structure makes it so we are never able to see a full image of Edith Piaf makes me think how mind-blowing Marion could have been if her arc went from A to Z instead of from A,D, E, and B.
But it's an incredibly small complaint because Marion Cotillard easily gives one of the most stunning and greatest performances ever that is a testament to how realistic and amazing acting can be.