Snow greeted festival-goers in Berlin on Thursday , stranding some travelers who were hoping to fly here for the first day of the 57th Berlin International Film Festival (particularly those coming from London). The main event opened with Olivier Dahan‘s competition entry “La Vie En Rose,” a look at the life of the famed French chanteuse Edith Piaf. The new film, named for Piaf’s most famous song (which was written amidst the German occupation of France during World War II), “La Vie En Rose” was previewed for press and industry at three showings during earlier today, followed by a press conference with the key cast and creators of the French/UK/Czech Republic co-production and later in the evening. With a light snow falling in the evening, the official Berlinale kick-off featured a lengthy opening ceremony, followed by the gala screening and then a festive, food-filled party at the Berlinale Palast here in the German capital.
Press reaction was polite at one screening with some saying that the film ran a bit long (at 140 minutes), but lead actress Marion Cotillard received a considerable ovation from journalsts at the fest press conference as the extent of the young woman’s transformation into Piaf became apparent. With extensive makeup and idiosyncratic character elements, Cotillard portrays the singer in a role that spans decades.
Calling the film, “a marvelous role, very rich,” Cotillard smiled graciously at the Grand Hyatt press event and later soaked in the attention on the red carpet during festivities broadcast live on German television. “I didn’t know Edith Piaf’s life very well,” she explained at the conference, “So I had to discover it.” She added, “I had to find room for two people, meaning the person I was impersonating and myself. It was not just an imitation, I wanted to do more than that.” Cotillard concluded, “So we really tried to give her life and we did that, all of us together.”
No doubt the actress will be the immediate front-runner for an acting award at this year’s festival. But, of course, such a decision will be up to the jurors, who also gathered on the red carpet in Berlin. Led by filmmaker Paul Schrader, who will unveil his new film “The Walker” this week, the jury includes Danish editor Molly Malene Stensgaard, American actor Willem Dafoe, German actor Mario Adorf, French/Palestinian actor/director Hiam Abbass, Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, and Chinese producer Nansun Shi.
“La Vie En Rose” director Olivier Dahan, a nearly forty-year old French filmmaker with a background in painting and music videos, was last at the Berlinale with a short film in 1995 and he later directed his first feature, “Deja Mort,” in 1998. At the press conference, his lead actress referenced recent film biopics about performers Ray Charles (“Ray“) and Johnny Cash (“Walk The Line“), noting that like those two iconic American singers, Piaf was a sensitive soul (who also battled addictions) and was on a personally destructive path. But Dahan seemed to distance his film from those others.
“I didnt want to make a biography,” Dahan said during Thursday’s press conference, “I wanted a portrait, so I had to choose what to put in and what not to put in. I just followed by own ideas, it was a very subjective decision of course.”
indieWIRE’s coverage from the 2007 Berlinale and the European Film Market continues in a special section.