Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Life of Edith Piaf



Anyone who nourishes the delusion that worldly success is the key to happiness has only to watch La Vie en Rose (2007) about French singer Edith Piaf. The story line is difficult to follow, unless someone is already familiar with the life of La Môme Piaf. I was not familiar with it and so had to do quite a bit of googling so I could understand what was happening in the film. Nevertheless, enough of Edith's vivid existence is captured with all the dirt and glamor so that the weight of mystery and tragedy is poignantly conveyed.

Her life was a blending of the profane and the sacred, from her childhood spent in a brothel to the extraordinary intervention of St Thérèse of Lisieux. The prostitutes who were raising Edith took her to the saint's grave in Lisieux and prevailed upon the Carmelite nun's intercession, so that the little girl was healed from blindness. She never forgot it, and neither did St. Thérèse, who will not let go of someone once she decides to fight for their soul.

The way the Little Flower haunted Edith's life with her usual tenacity reminded me of other stories of the saint, including some of my own. As a young person, I never felt drawn to St. Thérèse; she seemed too saccharine, her family was nothing like mine; I was not sure that I liked her at all. However, she kept boldly making herself known in the events of my youth, so that she became impossible to ignore. Now she is my friend; I hope she keeps her hand on me, as she does on many whom she adopts as spiritual siblings.

Poor Edith, she went through just about every terrible thing. The lurid brothel scenes of the film show prostitution to be the slavery that it is; the women could not seem to escape the lifestyle once they fell into it, in spite of their disgust and the horrific abuse they endured. Yet, the kindness with which they cared for Edith surpassed the treatment of many respectable people in her regard. Edith saw enough misery in the brothel so that she chose to sing for her supper rather than sell her body. She had to sing in order to live and in the end she could not live without singing.

Needless to say, the demons of her childhood would not release her; Edith was enslaved by drugs, alcoholism, while constantly seeking a love that could not be found in many lovers. And yet she always wore a cross; when she collapsed on stage, old before her time, she called upon Jesus and St. Thérèse. The words of the Gospel come to mind: "I will have mercy and not sacrifice. I come not to call the just but sinners." (Matthew 9: 13) Watching La Vie en Rose gives one the hope that, in the end, Edith found the mercy that we all hope to receive. Share

6 comments:

Terry Nelson said...

I have to watch the film now that it is on DVD! I'm happy you saw Therese in it.

alaughland said...

I read today in the Washington Post that the actress who portrayed her will surely be up for an Academy Award. Last year I watched a poignant documentary called "Born in a Brothel". The Edith Piaf film reminded me of some of the scenes depicted in the documentary.

papabear said...

You watched it on DVD and her story was still hard to follow? I thought the "extended" version would have been better in that regard...

elena maria vidal said...

I thought it was a bit hard to follow but it was still a very enjoyable movie. I just did not know who the various people in her entourage were until I read some accounts of her life.

SuzanneG said...

Just requested it.....

Fascinating!
thanks for the review.

elena maria vidal said...

You'll enjoy it, Suzanne!