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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 February 2007, 09:56 GMT
France rekindles love for Piaf
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC News, Paris

In his apartment on the Left Bank in Paris, Charles Dumont sits down at his old Pleyel piano and begins to play the familiar opening chords of Edith Piaf's most famous song: Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.

Edith Piaf
Piaf's image can be seen all over Paris

As he plays, he closes his eyes, lost in another age and another time - the day that, as a young man, he composed the music to the song on this very same piano 47 years ago, and brought it to Edith Piaf to see whether or not she would like to sing it.

"It was 5th October 1960 when I went to her in her apartment in Paris, with the lyricist Michel Vaucaire, who had written the words.

"Piaf's secretary opened the door and looked horrified and said: 'What are you doing here? I've been trying to ring you all day to say that Edith is too tired to see you'."

He added: "It was 5pm and Piaf was ill - she hadn't even managed to get out of bed. But when she heard it was us, Edith shouted down the corridor, 'As they're here, let them in!'"

"So I played Je Ne Regrette Rien for her on the piano. She asked me to play it again, and then asked: 'Did you really write this song?'

"I said 'yes, madame, we really did write this song'."

Mr Dumont went on: "She told me to play it again, and then she said: 'Young man, you have written a song that will conquer the world'."

Charles Dumont
Dumont asked Piaf to sing Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

Charles Dumont smiles at the vivid memory as he plays his composition in Piaf's honour.

He will be watching his own role on the big screen this week, as played by a young French actor, in the new biographical film about Piaf, La Vie En Rose, which opened in France on Wednesday.

Charles Dumont remembers well the Piaf he knew - a woman who gave everything unstintingly, and a larger-than-life figure, despite the diminutive frame of the chanteuse.

Once again, more than 40 years after her death from cancer in 1963 at the age of just 47, the French singer is dominating the streets of her native Paris.

'The Kid'

Piaf's image is everywhere, on billboards across the city plastered with posters advertising the film under its French title, La Mome, or "The Kid", her Parisian nickname.

The film itself has been preceded by a week of celebrations of Piaf's life across the media.

Perhaps it's because she was so free, so in love with life and men, so passionate, that Piaf remains so attractive to people today
Agnes Poirier, French cultural commentator
This tiny, seemingly fragile sparrow of a woman was dubbed Piaf - Parisian slang for sparrow - by the impresario who discovered her (played by Gerard Depardieu in the film).

And she clearly remains an icon to many in France, as the mistress of tragic love songs which reflected her own tumultuous life.

Yet it was more than her soaring voice that captured the hearts of the nation. It was her life itself, filled with drama and soaked in tragedy, that gave Edith Piaf a special place in French hearts.

The French actress Marion Cotillard stars as Edith from the age of 20 until her death, giving a performance that those who knew Piaf say is eerily true to life.

The film also recounts the singer's harsh childhood, as the daughter of a French circus acrobat and a street singer.

Young star

She was born in northern Paris, a neglected, sickly child, who was sent away from the capital at an early age to grow up in a brothel in Normandy, before returning as a scrawny teenager to sing on the streets with a friend - to earn enough money for their food.

Marion Cotillard and Olivier Dahan
Marion Cotillard plays Piaf and Olivier Dahan directs her
In her late teens, Piaf was discovered and rapidly won huge acclaim, ultimately singing to packed houses from Paris to New York as she conquered the world with her passionate songs.

Directed by Olivier Dahan, the film focuses, too, on Piaf's numerous and often tragic love affairs, including the death in a plane crash of the love of her life, a French boxer, as well as the loss of her only child - the daughter she bore at the age of 18, who died of meningitis at the age of two.

It also recounts Piaf's struggle with alcohol and morphine, as the singer sought to numb her pain.

Wisely, many of the songs in the film are the original recordings, with the voice that was once described by her friend, the poet Jean Cocteau, as like "being swept away on a wave of black velvet".

So will this Piaf mania create a whole new generation of fans?

Agnes Poirier, French cultural commentator, said: "Perhaps it's because she was so free, so in love with life and men, so passionate, that Piaf remains so attractive to people today."




SEE ALSO
Piaf film sets scene for Berlin
09 Feb 07 |  Entertainment
France remembers Piaf and Cocteau
12 Oct 03 |  Entertainment
Lost Piaf tracks found in Paris
02 Jul 03 |  Entertainment

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