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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The Visitor — Unity amid Diversity

Film:The Visitor Movie Poster

The Visitor, 2007

Starring Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira, and Hiam Abbass.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Widowed professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins, in an Oscar-nominated role) discovers an immigrant couple, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira), squatting in his Manhattan flat and becomes wrapped up in their lives when Tarek is thrown into a detention center. A wonderful Hiam Abbass co-stars as Tarek’s mother, who forges an unlikely connection with Walter. Director Thomas McCarthy’s indie drama was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards.

My Thoughts (warning… after paragraph one there be spoilers):

First of all, wow.  When I finished watching this movie I wanted to run and hug every member of my family.  Unfortunately nobody was home.  This movie does not sugar coat.  I would still call it a “feel good” movie, despite it’s painfully realistic ending, and highly recommend it to all who have not seen it.  It is an example of when art can transcend and speak to the soul, at least for me.  And with that, onto the content and discussion.

The film opens with scenes from Walter’s (Richard Jenkins) life.  It becomes pretty clear early on that he is a sad and isolated person, a widower who has not gotten over his wife’s death and has been living much of his life on auto-pilot.  I think this can happen to a lot of us, especially in grief.  Depression runs rampant in America as we all struggle to connect, to find our place and purpose in life.  It can be overwhelming to feel so alone.

He strives to learn the piano, which we discover later was his late wife’s instrument.  Music is his way of reaching out and trying to stay connected, and when he fails to perfect the piano his hope seems lost.  People often talk about the power of music, and it is true that it can uplift us.

We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high…  ~Bahá’u’lláh

The trajectory of his life changes as he is forced to go to New York for a conference.  It turns out Walter has kept an apartment there.  Presumably it is where he and his wife used to live, so he cannot bear to part with it but also has not lived there in a while due to the memories.  When he arrives he discovers a couple living there, unaware that he owned the place.  Zainab, from Senegal, and Tarik, from Syria, are a French speaking, Muslim couple who happen to also be illegal immigrants.

Walter initially kicks them out, but his heart warms when he realizes they have no place to go, so he allows them to stay.  Perhaps it was compassion, perhaps it was curiosity, or perhaps it was his soul crying out to end his lonliness.  This choice turns out to change his life, or rather to reawaken him.

I would like to pause here and talk about how amazing this premise is.  It really brings me hope.  Here are people from three continents, working and living together, to break through cultural barriers to learn about one another and the grow and share.  I find that absolutely beautiful.  New York City has often been described as the capital of the world, and the most diverse place on earth, but I think that all throughout the world more mixing is taking place.  Just look at the President of the United States.  Barack Obama is not just the first Black US President, but he is the first mixed-race US President, with a family that spans from Kansas, to Hawaii, to Kenya, and Indonesia.

Tarik takes the time to show Walter how to drum.  Tarik has taken an African drum and Middle Eastern musical influences and brought them together with jazz into a band.  He shows Walter this style, and slowly but surely coaxes him through it.  Walter loves it.  He may not be able to connect to the piano the way his wife had, but he can drum and through the music a smile is brought back to his face, and courage to his heart.

Unfortunately, after Tarik took Walter to a drum circle in Washington Park, he was stopped in the Subway and taken into custody for being Syrian.  Tarik was sent to a detention center waiting deportation.  Neither Zainab nor Tarik’s mother Moona could visit because their status was also in jeopardy. Walter takes it on as his duty to visit Tarik, being the only one who can.  Tarik opened his heart to Walter and shared his music, and Walter wanted to show love in return.

This is where the movie gets pretty sad.  Despite Tarik having applied for asylum due to persecution, it was not granted.  Everyone had to wait, and despite lawyers and appeals, it was to no avail: Tarik was deported.  Walter, however, was changed, and the film ends with him performing the drums in the subway, the way Tarik wished he had been able to do.

This film really plays with the notions of citizenship and of justice.  In this global world people strive to make new homes in new places.  Immigration is a controversial issue in America, and land born of immigrants.  If there were not global inequalities and injustices people would not become desparate enough to leave their home and family to come to NYC.  Walter had been a professor of Economics, studying Development in Third-World/non-Western/Developing countries, yet he had no solution.  This is more than just an economic, but a spiritual issue.

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

Or as The Bible put it in Leviticus, and reaffirmed by Jesus Christ in Matthew:

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

In this modern world, with global travel and the internet, everyone has become our neighbors.  We may not be able to solve the large problems, after all the security became tight in response to terrorism, but we can work on the small ones.  Tarik did by helping Walter through a difficult time, and through showing love and compassion.  Walter did the same by trying his best to support Tarik, even if all he could do was visit.

There are small things we can all do, whether it is visiting a neighbor, or trying to learn more about other cultures and peoples, that can help the world through this time of transition.  We are no longer tribes, or even countries, but the world as one, and this film tried to wrestle with a topic we are all wrestling with in one way or another.

Your thoughts?