The post title is the name of Edith Piaf’s biggest hit. It means “No, I regret nothing” and if she truly regretted nothing in her life she wasn’t paying close enough attention.

I, however, do not regret seeing this film. Adam thought this was a great performance buried in a bad film. I’m a little more charitable in that I think it’s a great performance in the middle of a flawed but still decent film.

First thing’s first, Marion Cotillard is terrific. This is one of those full-bodied, larger than life, meaty roles and she really throws herself into it. Piaf is something of a tragic figure in that her own flaws inevitably bring her down, but she’s not very sympathetic. The role requires Cotillard to play a mean drunk probably 50% of the film. Piaf is a self-centered, addiction-prone, and just generally mean character but she’s a hell of a performer. Substance abuse, arthritis, and a series of injuries ages her beyond her years so that she looks elderly in her late 40’s (and even then she manages to bark at her nurses). Cotillard plays all but the young child versions of Piaf, from the brazen street singer around 20 who gets her big break, to the top of the French pop scene, and back down to infirmity. She nails it. Even though I understand she does not do her own singing she still knocks the performance scenes out of the park. Piaf was a dynamo under 5 feet and could spellbind an audience of thousands and Cotillard brings that all to the screen.

So Cotillard as Piaf is a force to behold, but the other elements of the film are somewhat of a mess. The story progresses only vaguely chronologically. About 50% of the film follows a linear path through her life while the other half digresses either forwards or backwards. I understand the reasoning. A straight telling would play too much like a tragedy, miring the viewer in Piaf’s downfall for the last third of the film at the expense of other themes. As it is, we see her grow frail early in the film. But even more so I see it as a technique: Piaf as portrayed is something of a center of a constant storm. People move in and out of her presence and life. Whether it’s 1935 or 1955, alcohol is consumed, fits are thrown, concerts are performed (rarely on time), lovers come and go (how many husbands did she have- and does it matter?). The mess of the editing reflects the mess of her life.

That’s my passioned defense of the technique, but I admit I think it only partially works. Eventually it just jumps too much and understanding what’s going on in any given scene depends too much on being able to recognize who the people currently on screen are, and should that really be the case in a film whose editing is designed to obscure? I can appreciate it abstractly now that I’m looking back on it, but being in the middle of the film was often frustrating.

I really enjoyed the music, of which I had no prior knowledge. Piaf had an enchanting voice.

One last note is that the make-up is terrific and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get some Oscar buzz for it. Cotillard is 30, Piaf was 48 when she died but looked 70. The old scenes really make her look very old and decrepit without looking like movie make-up.

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