The year that also saw the release of popular rentals such as the epic Australia (2008), the tense The Dark Knight (2008) and the mysterious The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) is probably best remembered as the year that one particular film absolutely swept the Oscars, winning Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Original Music.
Not to mention another three wins and two further nominations; it is of course the wonderful Slumdog Millionaire (2008). The other film to be discussed in this article is the lovely and tragic La Vie En Rose (2007), the story of the tumultuous life of French singer Edith Piaf.
The seventh feature film from British directorial heavy weight Danny Boyle Slumdog Millionaire is the story of a young man who, having grown up in the slums of Bombay, reaches the top prize on the Indian version of the quiz show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”. As with most Danny Boyle pictures however there is more to the story than first meets the eye and, after being hauled in for questioning under suspicion of cheating on the show, the film takes a thrilling, shocking and heart-warming look into the young man’s past.
What I found so impressive about Slumdog was the way in which layer upon layer of meaning and countless different yet intertwining stories are linked together, stacked one on top another, slowly building up into the shape of the young man that was so brilliantly played by the boy I knew from Channel 4’s Skins, Dev Patel. Jamal (played by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar as the gorgeous younger boy and Patel as his older counterpart) has not had an easy life, as one would expect for an orphan growing up in the slums of India where crime, poverty and disease rule over friendship and loyalty. Yet he is gifted, albeit briefly, with a special partnership with his older brother and a meaningful relationship with another young orphan, Latika. It is these relationships, or more specifically the dreadful experiences and events that they endure, that act as an undercurrent throughout the picture; we already know by this point that Jamal makes it through to a later point in his life, yet it is the journey he undertakes that is so amazing and absorbing.
Despite the overwhelming tragedy and pain that occur on the slum streets of Mumbai Slumdog Millionaire is an incredibly uplifting and hopeful film; a character driven piece that champions love and bravery in the face of countless, seemingly insurmountable problems. Yet this very notion is what underlines Slumdog Millionaire, the contrasting, jarring and juxtaposing images of the beautiful Indian landscape, stunning sunshine, bright, colourful markets against the dirty, starving children and disease-ridden hovels in which they live; Boyle manages to capture both sights in a single shot time and time again, driving his message home whilst distracting the audience with whispers of hope. One moment in particular comes to mind for me here: when, as three young children, Jamal, his brother Salim and his beloved Latika, huddle together, tattered and terrified, yet dreaming of becoming the three musketeers – here we see the beauty and innocence and hope of childhood shining out like a beacon against the dark and unforgivable wrongs of the outside world; a demonstration of a true master at work.
Simply listening to the music of Edith Piaf is enough to bring tears to the eyes and shivers to the skin of many, to then witness the trials and tribulations that ran alongside songs such as Non, je ne regrette rien, Hymne a l'amour and of course La Vie En Rose is a truly wondrous experience.
At more than two hours some have criticized Olivier Dahan’s film for being too long; the runtime itself is filled with moments that flit through time, revealing the problems of Piaf’s sickly childhood to the tragedies of her love affair with married boxer Marcel Cedan, there is not a moment in the entire piece that is not palpably filled with emotion. The relatively sparse use of Piaf’s music, the originals only played to underlined key moments in her life, works perfectly alongside the otherwise almost overwhelmingly moving narrative, whilst the performances, obviously that of Marion Cotillard as well as those of her co-stars turn this story of a star into a far more personal and evocative affair; particularly the performance given by Jean-Pierre Martins, whose presentation of Piaf’s charming true love is spellbinding, adds so much depth to the film’s over-arching theme of love.
Ultimately however it is Cotillard who deserves the most applause, she is utterly unrecognisable and yet perfectly cast as the beautiful but doomed Piaf, the astonishing make up, combined with Piaf’s notoriously signature stoop bring Piaf to life in a way that few people, living and dead, were privileged enough to witness in reality. Her lip-synced versions of Piaf’s performances are not just accurate but also electrifying, the emotion visible in Cotillard’s face and eyes perfectly complimenting the heart wrenching tones of Piaf herself.
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