La Vie in Love: The Functionality of La Vie en Rose in ‘Love Me If You Dare’

Music has always played an important, if controversial, role in the development of film. Ever since there have been moving images to dance across the screen of a movie house, there has been music of some sort to accompany it. In the early years, it was usually live music, but as filmmaking has progressed over the years, the relationship between the music and the movies has changed drastically. Even now as filmmakers and theorists attempt to explain and understand how the two interact, truly definitive answers continue to elude us. One method of understanding the connection is by utilizing past examples. By examining past movie examples that use music and the visual well (or even poorly) it may help explain what qualities audiences look for in their movies. As Kassabian states in How Music Works in Film “Soundtrack music may set specific moods and emphasize particular emotions suggested in the narrative, but first and foremost, it is a signifier of emotion itself.” (Kassabian 2001, 40) Nevertheless, there is a symbiotic relationship between the music and the image, forcing the two to co-exist without overpowering one another. An example of a movie that effectively balances the music and the visual or vice versa is the French movie Love Me If You Dare (J’eux d’enfants, Yann Samuel, 2004). In order to understand the usage of music, specifically Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “La Vie en Rose” in the case of Love Me If You Dare, it’s important to understand a little about the context of the scene in question. Love Me If You Dare is a madcap French romance about two young children, Julien and Sophie, who play an increasingly dangerous game of dares well into their adulthood. Bits and pieces of different covers of “La Vie en Rose” appear throughout the film. But I will focus on Louis Armstrong’s rendition which plays over the final scene (Armstrong 2006). In Love Me If You Dare’s final scene, Sophie begs Julien to wake up after he has been badly beaten. The rain pours down on the two as she holds him close to her. When he finally does awaken, the two kiss passionately. They continue to kiss as the scene changes to a pit which is slowly being filled with cement as “La Vie en Rose” begins to play in the background. . Even as certain death awaits them, they embrace. There is a bright flash of white light as the film shows an old man and woman, presumably Julien and Sophie, engaged in their childhood pranks as trumpets play softly in the background. As the movie plays out and Armstrong’s vocals grow stronger, the movie creates a montage of all the kisses the two have shared in life. A sense of relief washes over the audience as the lovers commit to each other in life and in death. This sense of closure is conveyed musically as “La Vie en Rose” plays out in full for the first time as Julien and Sophie’s story comes to an end. The song itself has an emotional significance that is established over the course of the movie, but even musically the song is characterized by its warm vocals and its almost childlike simplicity. Armstrong’s cover of “La Vie en Rose” wanders from one note to the next at a leisurely pace, lingering every so often, but never detracting from its romantic undertones and perfectly complementing the scene. However, in understanding how the music works within the scene, it’s easiest to look at how other music operates within the scene. For the sake of impartiality, iTunes shuffle selected the three songs to be played over the scene in place of “La Vie en Rose.”
The first of the three songs was Black Flag’s “This Is Good” (Rollins 1990). Taking into account that Black Flag is a punk band, the musical accompaniment is much more aggressive, as opposed to Armstrong’s meandering melody. As a result, it presents the viewer with a conflict between the images of love and tenderness versus the hardened sounds of Rollins’ voice. Even to a casual listener, from Black Flag’s intro, the song establishes itself as a very different type of music than Armstrong’s piece. Unlike “La Vie en Rose”, Black Flag’s “This Is Good” has a more pronounced beat than the romantic tune. As a result, it presents the viewer with a conflict between the images of love and tenderness versus the hardened sounds of Rollin’s voice. However, even ignoring the inevitable comparison to the original soundtrack, the editing is greatly affected by the more up-tempo work of Rollins and company. Love Me if You Dare’s editing is much more leisurely than the frantic beat of “This Is Good”, which presents a direct conflict between the two. In essence, this end scene of Love Me if You Dare is about savoring the precious moments that the audience shares with Julien and Sophie, which lends itself to a more casual pace. “This Is Good” creates chaos in an otherwise romantic scene. The general feel of Black Flag is at odds with the images being presented on the screen, which causes trouble for some of the technical aspects of the film. For instance, when the scene is played with Black Flag, the editing becomes much more obvious and awkward. This goes along with what Gorbman says about music and editing working in a rhythm in her piece Why Music? The Sound Film and Its Spectator (Gorbman 1987). Even simply listening to the lyrics of “This is Good” creates an entirely different sense of the scene. “La Vie en Rose” is a French song so the lyrics are secondary to the general tone of the song, which is romantic. When looking at the lyrics some of the rough translations are, “When he takes me in his arms, and speaks softly to me, I see life in rosy hues.” Black Flag’s “This is Good” is characterized by lines such as, “I smash my fists, into my face.” These acts of lyrical aggression appear even more sinister in juxtaposition with the couple kissing and Armstrong’s lyrics. With Black Flag’s “This is Good”, an inherently aggressive and violent song the relation, or lack thereof, between the two pieces is almost impossible to ignore. It isn’t simply one element, such as the editing or the lyrics themselves, but compounded, it amounts to something more. The aggressiveness of Black Flag’s music and vocals affect the scene by taking the viewer out of it and exposing the illusion of film making, such as the mismatched music, making cuts in the editing more visible. This goes along with an idea discussed in James Buhler, David Neumeyer, and Rob Deemer’s book Hearing the Movies: Music and Sound in Film History (Buhler, Neumeyer, and Deemer 2010). In one portion of the book, they discuss editing with the use of music to establish a sort of flow. Although Neumeyer and Buhler make it an obvious point worth discussing there are other instances, such as “This is Good” playing over a romantic scene, that make this idea just as obvious.
The next song that came up in iTunes shuffle is Jen Titus’s “O Death”, which is an unofficial bootleg. The song itself already has roots in visual media since it was used in a fifth season episode of the CW show Supernatural. However, the piece is much more fitting when used in the show’s apocalyptic storyline as opposed to the warm and fuzzy feelings the audience seems to equate with the ending of Love Me if You Dare. Titus’s musical arrangement is stark and dramatic. There are even moments with a Gregorian chant type of feel to them. The song’s slow progression feels more purposeful and defiant than Armstrong’s rosy arrangement, which feels as if it glides from one note to the next. This heavy and almost methodical beat makes Titus’s song a compelling piece, but not for the scene in question. When paired with the sentiments of the movie’s conclusion, the two are ill fitting. Armstrong’s piece is perfectly suited as it is, which makes it difficult enough to find a suitable replacement or even a song that functions as well in the setting. Still, Titus’s piece feels inappropriate, possibly because of its roots in Supernatural, a show that follows two demon hunter brothers as they struggle to rid the world of evil. Even more likely than that is that “O Death” feels like a lament. After watching this couple face romantic mispairings and insurmountable odds, it’s difficult to imagine a sorrowful song being the endnote for the movie. The lyrics aren’t in as stark contrast to the original piece as Black Flag’s, but the frequent use of the word “death” distracts from the images that are seen onscreen. This once again supports the idea that it’s difficult if not altogether impossible to separate the music and lyrics from the tone that is being established by the imagery, an idea that is in direct conflict with Gorbman’s theory of music in film as nonrepresentational (Gorbman 1987).
Finally, the last song selected by iTunes was Muse’s “Dead Star (Instrumental)” (Bellamy 2003). “Dead Star” is a raucous piece that makes frequent use of riffs. With no audible lyrics to progress the song, it feels like a loop of the same instrumentals. This is the closest similarity between the use of “La Vie en Rose” in Love Me if You Dare and Muse’s work, because of the images used in the scene. The repetition of images and the repetition of the same basic musical riffs are oddly fitting, but only in the sense that both use repetition. For example, Muses’s use of repeated riffs does not directly sync up with the repeated images of Julien and Sophie kissing, but both make use of repetition. The music itself remains at odds with the simplicity and emotional sincerity of the moving image. Much like Black Flag, this piece is very intense as well as bass and beat-driven. The heaviness of the song is out of place with the sense of relief that is felt at the movie’s end. Once again, music proves itself to be a representational device in film as the viewer notices and reacts to the contrast between the music and the image. Furthermore, the rhythm of the editing, as leisurely as it is in the final scene of Love Me if You Dare, is once again in conflict with Muse’s musical accompaniment, which is much faster paced and seemingly aimless in comparison to this scene. By altering the music, it is effectively making the properties of the film more obvious to the viewer (Buhler and Neumeyer 2000).
Love Me if You Dare’s use of Louis Armstrong’s “La Vie en Rose” at Julien and Sophie’s is a beautiful example of how the music and the moving image work together beautifully. Although the issue of just what “popular” music’s role in film is largely ignored or frequently debated, through testing these three songs, it’s become clear that there is a definite relationship. The lyrical comparisons between most of these pieces is a difficult case to make since “La Vie en Rose” is in French, but even with the language barrier, the singing styles present very different emotional responses. However, musicology aside, these different musical accompaniments illustrate that the music helps the movie along in its technical aspects, predominantly editing where there is an established feel that goes along with Louis Armstrong’s warble. It is for these reasons that Louis Armstrong’s “La Vie en Rose” fits best with the reunion between Julien and Sophie after a lifetime of madcap romance, heartbreak, and undying love.

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