By Owen Gleiberman
Updated June 06, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Bruno Calvo

I’m not usually in the business of hailing a performance as ”award-worthy,” but why is La Vie en Rose, with its furious turn by Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf — less a performance than a possession — coming out in early summer? Hurtling and impassioned, driven by some of the greatest popular music ever recorded, this wildly overripe and unkempt biopic is a true experience, yet I suspect it needs the backdrop of a duskier time of year — and, yes, awards season — to draw audiences to the mad intensity of Cotillard’s acting. She fills the diminutive, firebrand Piaf with life force at every age: as a lusty teen urchin, warbling on the streets of Paris for her supper; as the imp-diva with drawn-on eyebrows, looking like a depressed mime as she belts out her sublime cabaret ballads in a voice as strong and clear as a bell; and as Piaf the arthritic, morphine-addicted wreck (she died at 47), a Gallic Judy Garland who extinguished everything inside but the flame of her will.

Co-written and directed by Olivier Dahan, La Vie en Rose slams through Piaf’s life the way she did — with trippy gusto — yet the ”impressionistic” time leaps, the scattered memories and loose ends, leave you longing, at moments, for the more ordered force of a movie like Ray. That said, Dahan uses the facts of Piaf’s story (her rise on the nightclub circuit; her affair with boxing champ Marcel Cerdan, whose plane-crash death destroyed her) to touch her greatness, which was her ability to draw the ardor of life out of tragedy, pouring it into song until tragedy and happiness became one. B+