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'La Vie en Rose'

Turning the gorgeous, willowy French actress Marion Cotillard into stooped, arthritic Edith Piaf has to be the most striking uglification of an actress since Charlize Theron's star turn in Monster. But it's hardly this unconventional biopic's only strong point. Piaf's life on the streets of Paris in the 1920s and '30s turns out to have been at least as anguished as the tragic anthems she sang so vibrantly. Brought up in her grandmother's brothel, singing for centimes on street corners, winning international acclaim as a cabaret star only to die at 47, she's depicted as having been every bit as coarse, tormented, and difficult as she was talented. Olivier Dahan films her story in lush, super-saturated colors, leaping around in time with Cotillard lip-synching to classic Piaf recordings everywhere from the street to meticulously recreated nightclubs. The out-of-sequence storytelling is a tad confusing at first, but the film gathers force as its leading lady goes into a tailspin, idolized but unloved, addicted to morphine, and desperately ill — une vie tres tragique, en rose.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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