Piaf wasn't called "Little Sparrow" for nothing; her lilting voice made the angels weep. But the psychological damage from a dysfunctional upbringing left scars that would impact the rest of her life.
Raised by alcoholic parents and left to her own devices at her grandmother's dreary brothel, a rejected Edith knew plenty of hard times. Ultimately she hoped to leave her harrowing past behind and struck out on her own, singing in the streets for paltry francs.
Nightclub owner Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu) heard those magical tones wafting from Parisian alleyways and immediately offered her a job at his disreputable nightclub. From there La Mome Piaf's star rose astronomically, but not without the whiff of scandal as Luplée's murder left her shrouded in suspicion and guilt.
Love was Piaf's fleeting sanctuary; her torrid affair with married middleweight boxing champ Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins) a tonic that soothed her very soul until his untimely death sent the weary chanteuse spiraling into a vortex of grief and substance abuse from which she never recovered.
Cotillard manages to embody all of Piaf's agonizing glory, from her staggering talent to the frivolous martyrdom and stunning flaws. Her temperamental star is charming, demanding and difficult, a true artiste for whom nothing and no one is spared her acerbic tongue.
Piaf's music is equally mournful and palliative; eerily evocative as it smoothes over a dizzying whirlwind of flashbacks and the visual squalor of life on the stark side.
As arresting as Cotillard's performance is - a brilliant achievement - her movie is a tousled biopic, both bleak and disturbing, a lengthy bad dream that wrings out every drop of sympathy and sentiment, leaving a dark well of sorrow in its wake.