This spectacular epic portraying the spectacular life of singing legend Edith Piaf and powered by so many of her actual recordings is one of those rare cinematic happenings where every aspect of the production--from key casting and scripting down to the minutest period details--is done to perfection.

It does help that Piaf's real life story, with a large measure of personal and professional ups and downs akin to Judy Garland's, is the stuff of riveting drama and remarkable triumphs against all odds. Honoring so valuable an asset, La Vie en Rose is an unforgettable ride, not just for Piaf fans, but for audiences everywhere who value quality and a special big-screen experience.

The film hits most of the important marks in Piaf's saga, from early impoverished years marked by poor health through the 1920s when she became a Parisian street singer and a rise to fame in the 1930s, followed by international acclaim that ended with her untimely death in Provence in 1963.

In the movie's account, the young Piaf (Manon Chevallier and Pauline Burlet), neglected by an alcoholic mother and cared for by circus performer father Louis Gassion (Jean-Paul Rouve), spends her early years in a brothel where Titine (Emmanuelle Seigner), a maternally inclined prostitute, cares for her. After a frightening period of blindness, Piaf joins her father "on the road" with his circus troupe. Back in Paris and collecting coins for her street-performing dad, the ingénue captures the attention of dispersing crowds with her impromptu rendition of "La Marseillaise," France's national anthem.

As a teen (Marion Cotillard), Piaf hangs out with Momone (Sylvie Testud), who will become her devoted friend, and sings for her suppers on the Paris streets, until nightclub owner Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu) discovers her, gives her the "Piaf" name and launches her remarkable career.

Piaf suffers the first of many setbacks when Leplée is murdered. Thanks to talent, luck and an uncanny ability to pick material, she rebounds with hit records, including her signature song of the film's title, and unending live engagements. Abetting her rise to prominence worldwide are manager Louis Barrier (Pascal Greggory), prominent composers and teachers like Raymond Asso (Marc Barbe), and music hall impresarios. It is Asso's advice to her to "live the song" which inspires Piaf's great technique.

As her renown grows in the '40s, Edith meets champion boxer Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins), who becomes the love of her life. The tragedy of his sudden death in an airplane crash aggravates Piaf's always fragile health and lifelong dependency on drugs. As her condition deteriorates and substance abuse accelerates, she continues recording and making stage appearances through the '50s until she is forced to retire to Grasse in Provence. She dies there in 1963.

Living so eventful and successful a life, Piaf knew many of the world's richest and most famous--many casually, many intimately. Among those who briefly sweep through La Vie en Rose are Marlene Dietrich, Yves Montand, Charles Azanavour and Jean Cocteau.
Filmmaker Olivier Dahan, so lucky to have Marion Cotillard for her flawless reincarnation of Piaf, has honored his good fortune by convening a wonderful supporting cast around her and creating an appropriately lavish and well-considered production for all this talent. The rich production design, whether capturing early 20th-century France or the Paris, New York, California, and Provence Piaf knew later, always rings authentic. Tetsuo Nagata's deep-focus and fluid cinematography captures all this detail so that the film is a banquet for the eye. Richard Marizy's skillful editing zigzags back and forth in time and even into moments of fantasy, without ever losing the immediacy of whatever episode in Piaf's life or career viewers are asked to embrace.

La Vie en Rose reminds that "mise-en-scène"--implying attention to every aspect of a production--is French in origin and justifiably so.