La Vie en Rose — Crisis and Victory

La Vie en Rose Movie PosterFilm:

La Vie en Rose (French title: La môme), 2007

Starring Marion Cotillard and Gérard Depardieu.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

In this biopic, director Olivier Dahan creates a loving portrait of legendary Parisian singer Edith Piaf (played by Marion Cotillard in an Oscar-winning performance), whose passion for music saw her through a life filled with tragedy. The film follows the chanteuse from her forlorn childhood in a brothel to her big break at Louis Leplée’s (Gérard Depardieu) nightclub and her premature death at age 47. Sylvie Testud and Pascal Greggory co-star.

My Thoughts:

I love learning, and through this film I felt that I learned a lot.  I had absolutely no idea what this movie was about, even after watching Marion Cotillard accept an Oscar for her performance in it, but decided to check it out.  I am glad I did because it is important to experience and learn about people who have strongly influenced culture beyond one’s own nation.

It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

This film focuses around the life of Edith Piaf, a famous French singer, and her life filled with tragedy and beauty.  She went through more hardships in the first decade of her life than I probably have yet.  Edith was born to a cabaret singing mother, and a father who was serving in the army during World War I.  Her mother was an alcoholic who would often leave her alone, or on the street when she performed.

When he father returned from the war he took Edith away from her mother, and deposited her with her grandmother who was the matron of a brothel.  Edith then lived in the brothel, when she got an infection which left her blind for most of her childhood.  The women of the brothel saved money to take Edith on pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Theresa where they prayed for healing for Edith so that she could regain her sight, which she eventually did, and this incident left her with a life long faith in St. Theresa whom she would pray to when times continued to get rough.

O thou maid-servant of the Blessed Perfection! Be thou not sad, neither be thou unhappy, although the divine tests are violent, yet are they conducive to the life of the soul and the heart. The more often the pure gold is thrown into the furnace of test, the greater will become its purity and brilliancy and it will acquire a new splendor and brightness. I hope that thou art thyself in such a position.

Consider thou the lives of the former sanctified souls; what tests have they not withstood and what persecutions have they not beheld; while they were surrounded with calamities they increased their firmness and while they were overwhelmed with tests they manifested more zeal and courage. Be thou also like unto them. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
The tests did not end there.  Edith had grown fond of these women, who, despite the infamy of their trade and the desperation that brought them to it, had cared for her and showed her love and compassion.  Then her father returned pulling her away to join him on the road where he worked as a contortionist for the circus.  Again Edith adapted, and grew to like the circus, when her father quit do to an argument with the owner.  Again, Edith was forced to abandon something she loved for a life of a street performer.  This was a theme in her life, loss and abandonment.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?  ~Psalms 22:1
However it was through this event that she was able to discover her gift.  When on the street as her Dad performed, one day the crowd wanted the girl in the act.  Not knowing what to do she sang the French national anthem.  Her voice was strong and endearing.  The crowd applauded vigorously and tossed coins her way.  She soon learned to sing for her supper.
Music is God’s gift to man, the only art of Heaven given to earth, the only art of earth we take to Heaven. ~ Walter Savage Landor
It took her 10 more years of singing on the street and in cabarets, getting mixed up with pimps and ruffians, before he luck turned (for a little while at least).  She was discovered by a night club owner, Louis Leplée, who was able to give her a steady paycheck and audience, and save her from a life on the street.  But, like every good thing in Edith’s life it was soon taken away.  Louis Leplée was murdered, most likely from the mafia, and connections Edith had made on the street.  This was a real tragedy for her as Leplée had been her savior of sorts, and unintentionally she had gotten him killed.
O SON OF MAN! Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more. ~ Bahá’u’lláh
This would not be the last time she grieved for an untimely death.  Later, once she became even more professionally successful through connections Louis had made for her, her lover died in a plane crash.  Already used to self-medicating through the use of alcohol, this event through her into a life long alcoholism which contributed to a car crash she was in that left her arthritic and in pain, contributing to cycle of addiction.  We find out later that this love of her life, Marcel, shared a name with the only child Edith bore, a daughter named Marcelle, who died at the age of two from Meningitis, back when Edith was still living on the street.
Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved. The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of Divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken, the bird cannot fly.
~ St. John of the Cross
It was music that was able to get her through the tough times.  Edith loved to bring joy to the faces of the people in the audience.  Her music was also a catharsis as she commissioned ballads that dealt with the suffering she had faced, as well as those to uplift.  Even when she was dying from liver failure, she bolstered up the strength to sing one last time at the Olympia a song which summed up her life, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, translated as No Regrets:
No, nothing at all, I regret nothing at all
Not the good, nor the bad. It is all the same.
No, nothing at all, I have no regrets about anything.
It is paid, wiped away, forgotten.
I am not concerned with the past, with my memories.
I set fire to my pains and pleasures,
I don’t need them anymore.
I have wiped away my loves, and my troubles.
Swept them all away.
I am starting again from zero.

No, nothing at all, I have no regrets
Because from today, my life, my happiness, everything,
Starts with you!

Edith may not have always made the best choices.  She was human, and she dealt with a lot of suffering, in mostly two ways- the healthy: music, and the unhealthy: alcohol.  Her alcoholism and addiction to pain medication, was both tragic and yet understandable considering the repeated loss in her life of every person she loved, and both the physical and emotional pain she had to bear.  Her love for music is what kept her alive and kept her from thoughts of suicide, and without music she did not want to live.  She would take shots of painkillers to have the strength to go on stage after the car accident that left her crippled.  The doctors were conflicted knowing that her performing was killing her, but also knowing that it was keeping her spirit alive and giving her the will to go on.  I think there is a lot to learn from here and a lot to think about when we live our own lives, as well as when we see others making choices that perhaps we do not fully understand.  We cannot know fully the suffering others go through, but in Edith’s case, she was able to channel her suffering into her art and bring beauty into the world through her music.


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6 thoughts on “La Vie en Rose — Crisis and Victory

  1. The same happened to me, I saw the Oscars last year, had no idea about Edith Piaf before, and I was rooting for Julie Christie then.
    But my mom knows Edith Piaf very well, so I became interested in watching the movie.
    I saw it recently and confirm Marion´s award was the best Best-Actress winner I have seen, I am usually dissapointed with actresses, female roles are not interesting, and usually they do nude to win an Oscar. But this one is the best.
    In fact, I recognised some of the songs, as my mom was a fan of Edith Piaf, and those songs were played by other artist too, some of the songs are very familiar to me.
    Amazing singer, what a beautiful songs.
    This movie is GREAT to know about great artist as Edith Piaf was.

    • Yes! It is so true. She was quite deserving of the win and the role was richly layered. She has such an expressive face! Also, after watching I realized that I had heard Edith Piaf’s songs peppered throughout films before. In other films, like Saving Private Ryan, they actually have her featured in the background. I am so glad this movie was made and released in the States because she really had an amazing life and produced such beautiful music.

  2. I really love your blog. You pull things together from so many sources, and bring out wonderfully deep insights.

    Today this quote jumped out at me: “O thou maid-servant of the Blessed Perfection! Be thou not sad, neither be thou unhappy, although the divine tests are violent, yet are they conducive to the life of the soul and the heart. The more often the pure gold is thrown into the furnace of test, the greater will become its purity and brilliancy and it will acquire a new splendor and brightness.” I struggle very much with the idea that there is something that makes any amount of suffering “worth it”, and especially when the suffering is called a divine test. To whom is it worth this; i.e., who benefits? God? All humankind? The sufferer?

    If there is indeed a God who is trying to accomplish some kind of ultimate good by causing suffering, and God is all-powerful, why not just cause the good that is the actual purpose, instead? Shouldn’t something as marvelous as God, also be logical? (Please don’t take this as a criticism or a swipe at belief – I’ve struggled with these questions for about 25 years now and I’m no closer to any answers, and that quote just reminded me of them. 🙂 )

    I think the only thing that’s at all fair is if the sufferer is the one who benefits, and even that is dicey. Does Edith find any more joy in music after all the bad things that happen, than she did when she first sang the French national anthem? What is better, in the large sense, about singing + suffering, than if she had spent her life just singing?

    • Thank you for your heart felt comment! I am so glad that you appreciate my blog and that it gets you to think and respond 🙂 I too now subscribe to your blog and love it! As for suffering, I think that this concept is probably the one that both brings the most people to faith to find answers, as well as causes people to leave faith when they have not found answers that are satisfactory. Suffering is very hard to wrap the head around.

      At the same time, try to imagine a world without suffering. At first it seems like heaven, and maybe it is, but really think about it. If there were no suffering, absolutely no discomfort, if we were all perfectly content and happy all the time we would have no motivation to do anything. We could just sit and be content and not speak, or think, or breathe or eat. Free will would essentially be gone because we would have all our needs immediately taken care of. We wouldn’t just lose the “bad” things, but I think we would lose out on a lot of good things too… people wouldn’t need to produce art, they wouldn’t need to give each other hugs, or listen to each other wih compassion, or blog. I know it seems counter intuitive, and it’s still something I haven’t fully grasped myself, but I do know that if we didn’t suffer we would not be motivated to work, to accomplish, to change, to channel our power for good. It makes me think of another quote that I almost put instead of the one that jumped out at you:

      The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes.

      The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes.

      The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows.

      The more you put the gold in the fire, the purer it becomes.

      The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts.

      Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes.

      That is why, in all times, the Prophets of God have had tribulations and difficulties to withstand.

      The more often the captain of a ship is in the tempest and difficult sailing the more greater his knowledge becomes.

      Therefore I am happy that you have had great tribulations and difficulties . . .

      Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have sorrows.

      ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

      That being said, I think that one of the “perfections” we can develop as a society is trying to alleviate each others suffering, and especially unnecessary, human caused suffering. By developing compassion, and recognizing the hurt both we and others feel, we can work to minimize it while still recognizing that not all suffering is bad. Some suffering is unconscionable (like war, or domestic violence, child abuse, rape…) and it blows my mind that some people see causing suffering to others as a way to relieve their own (it doesn’t work but it doesn’t mean people do not try it… you’ve grappled with this when realizing that not everyone wants peace… which is really disheartening). But then there is good suffering too. We suffer to learn. When we are in school we might not get the answers the first time around. We may study and it will be hard, our head may ache and it may take a lot of our energy to strive, but if we did not go through that suffering we would not be able to accomplish all we would want to. Same thing with childbirth. There is a lot of pain involved, and a lot of sacrifice in becoming a mother, yet the result is a beautiful one.

      As for Edith and her life, I can’t say what would be better. I do know that she herself said that her life, all of it, the good and the bad, influenced her work. Many of her songs addressed the pain she felt and were cathartic. Maybe she would have been able to make just as good music without suffering, but I am not sure if it would have spoken as honestly to the heart. While sympathy and empathy are both important, there is a difference between them. Because she suffered when she sung of pain it was genuine, and those emotions were not manufactured, which is probably why people connect so much to her music and why it is still popular nearly 50 years after her death. I am not saying that I *wanted* her to have suffered as much as she did. It was shocking and I don’t know if I would have had the strength to go through what she did. But I do think that what she accomplished despite and because of her suffering was beautiful, and that her art continues to help others find solace when they are suffering.

      Those are just some of my thoughts. I don’t think we will truly ever understand the purpose of suffering until the next world. It’s like how a baby in the womb can’t possibly understand why it needs to develop eyes and hands and legs (What is there to see in the womb? What is there to grab? Where can one walk?), but I think that suffering is helping us to develop our “spiritual eyes” and “spiritual hands” and it is that faith that helps me not to be completely disheartened at the state of the world.

      Thank you again for your beautiful thoughts and comments. They are such important things to think about and your reply made my day!

      • I see your point, and it does mostly make sense to me. The closest I can come to an acceptance of the existence of suffering is through the concept of nonduality. The reason we have a word for “day” at all, is that there is night. So day is defined as much by what it is as by what it is not, and therefore in a way, they are the same thing. Or, different manifestations of the same concept. I suppose we couldn’t experience joy if there weren’t any sorrow. I guess what I specifically can’t come to terms with is when people make the automatic assumption that ALL suffering has some ultimate noble purpose. Yeah, it’s really great that Salk developed the polio vaccine, so now we don’t get polio. But is that good really a balance to the suffering of all the people who were crippled or killed by polio before Salk? If the ultimate result is the condition of “no polio”, then isn’t it a greater good for no one to have ever had it, since the resulting condition is then also “no polio”? It just seems so much more efficient to do it that way! But, perhaps, God is not an industrial engineer. 🙂

      • I like that, the nonduality idea. What is day without night? And you are right about disease. That is weird to me. What is also weird is how the same bacteria or virus can effect people in such different ways. For one its deadly for another its barely worse than a cold. There is so much we still do not understand about how bodies work, and how pathogens work. The world is so mind boggling. I guess that keeps it interesting and gives industrial engineers and doctors problems to solve! Thanks again for helping me work my brain and heart muscles 🙂

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