Reviews: "La Vie en Rose;" "Crazy Love"

Steve Ramos June 5, 2007

“La Vie en Rose” (La Môme) sings?

[ editorÕs note: This article was originally published by indieWIRE.]

In spite of the best efforts of method actors, their methodical directors, and the most talented costume designers the world over, biopics can usually be relied upon to disappoint. Their audiences have built-in reason to doubt: much as they pony up for a chance to see their beloved icon come back to life, their familiarity with the figure makes for built-in skepticism. Give them a hagiographic script freighted with too much momentousness, or a marquee actor who can’t quite squeeze his/her own persona down to size, and you have created a formula for intense love-hate. That Olivier Dahan’s Edith Piaf film “La Vie en Rose” (La Môme) succeeds where so many others of its type have failed is a testament to the powers of the imagination. Not so much Dahan’s imagination — on fairly bold display here — but the audience’s: The chaos of Dahan’s Chinese box timeline gives us plenty of room to puzzle over Piaf’s life ourselves. And the originality with which Dahan frames the film’s high notes offers breathing room. One much talked-about scene features new-to-the-scene Piaf triumphing over her nervousness and entering a stage to sing before the biggest audience of her life — as the soundtrack goes silent.

As viewed on closing night of the SF International’s 50th, where a crowded Castro theater and a worshipful audience were ready for melancholy, the unrationed sentimentality of Dahan’s film went down more easily than it might have on a weeknight at the artplex. Tears are jerked clean from their ducts in scene after scene of childhood abandonment — from the streets to the whorehouse to the exploitive arms of a contortionist father and back to the streets again. Marion Cotillard’s Piaf deeply embeds gestures that believably translate Piaf’s charm and vulnerability through a variety of life stages, which Dahan flips through in a matter of seconds in many sequences of the film. A weaker actress would have been exposed by the fairly brutal juxtaposition of young and old, but Cotillard’s Piaf survives. Dahan, who didn’t shy away from repeating key motifs, seemed fairly breezy in his attitude toward skipping whole other chapters of Piaf’s dramatic life in the post-screening Q&A. Upon reflection, that attitude may have been the film’s saving grace. Condensing 47 years of Piaf into two-and-a-half hours or less is not a project you want to approach with too much sobriety.

Romeo and Juliet, only nuttier: Dan Klores’ “Crazy Love”

[ editor’s note: This story appeared originally in indieWIRE on January, 25, 2007, as part of the site’s Sundance Film Festival coverage.]

The will-she or won’t-she rehab antics of actress Lindsay Lohan pale in comparison to the New York tabloid tale of lying husband Burt Pugach and his beautiful girlfriend Linda Riss. Director Dan Klores, a prominent member of the Sundance community thanks to his films “The Boys of 2nd Street Park” and “Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story,” captures the pulpy spirit of their oddball, fifty-year love affair with his stand-up-and-cheer documentary “Crazy Love.” The fact that their story made newspaper headlines for many years is clear in the first minutes of Klores’ rollicking film, his finest effort yet. Despite the sadness, crimes and terrible actions, the story of Burt and Linda is the best time at Sundance.

Via Burt and Linda, Klores also uncovers something far richer: the complexity of human life, the understanding that people are capable of anything and despite the terrible things people do to each other, the surprise that love still prevails.

Linda Riss, a beautiful brunette with twice the sass of most women, first met Burt Pugach in 1957. She was just twenty-one and while she admits in the film never considering Pugach handsome, she was impressed with his money. Pugach, a gangly man with dark Brillo hair and clunky eyeglasses, someone who looks more like a Jazz musician than an attorney, fell madly in love with the much-younger Linda. But very little about Pugach was real. He was married, had a young daughter and no interest in divorcing his wife. What was real was Pugach’s obsession to possess Linda at all costs. With Linda engaged to be married, Pugach’s actions turned from puppy dog fixation to something dark and closer to Othello. But their story didn’t stop there. Like I said, romance prevails in “Crazy Love.”

For those new to the Burt and Linda story, “Crazy Love” is full of surprises and there are moments that seem too odd to be true. These unaware few are lucky because “Crazy Love” packs an extra punch when you don’t know what’s around the corner (Admittedly, there are some details I had forgotten). For New Yorkers and fans that remember every detail of the Linda and Burt story, “Crazy Love” will win them over with lively period music, great archival footage of New York, perfect volleys of he said/she said interviews, artful use of old photographs and a quick pace that leaves one begging for more. Klores does not reinvent the non-fiction format with “Crazy Love” but he doesn’t need to break new ground. In this case, the formula works perfectly.

Granted, what Burt did to Linda close to forty years ago is unsettling and yet, the moments of sadness and anger in “Crazy Love” are fleeting. Pugach may be obsessive to the point of criminal activity but Klores never judges. He’s the same with Linda, who many would call the worst kind of co-dependent. “Crazy Love” lets the lovebirds speak for themselves and as a result I have fallen heads over heels for them.

Steve Ramos is an award-winning film writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. When not on assignment, he maintains the blog Flyover Online.