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Josiane Balasko brings memories of Édith Piaf to life

Alone in front of the microphone in a Radio France studio, Josiane Balasko is concentrated.

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Josiane Balasko brings memories of Édith Piaf to life

Alone in front of the microphone in a Radio France studio, Josiane Balasko is concentrated. “I like to imagine that I fell out of the nest on December 19, 1915. (…) My grandmother is Moroccan. We call her Aïcha. She worked in a circus where she did a jumping flea act! My mother, she sings in cabarets. It seems that she has a very beautiful voice. I don’t know, I don’t know her.”

From the outset, Josiane Balasko slips into the character of Édith Piaf. It even fades away. They don't have the same voice but their Parisian banter is identical. A few decades apart, these two popular artists lived in the same neighborhoods of Belleville and Montmartre. “Édith Piaf reminds me of my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s. In my parents' coffee shop, his songs were often played on the jukebox. Josiane Balasko was 13 when Édith Piaf died at 48. The sound of Piaf's childhood takes us back to the years 1915-1930. When Nights of China (1922) resonates, we imagine a black and white film.

With 2 million listens on demand, the podcast “Le Journal Intime de…” is one of Radio France’s great successes. From Édith Piaf, listeners will remember that you should never give up when you have a passion but that you have to work a lot. After Rudolf Nureyev told by Lambert Wilson, Maria Callas by Carole Bouquet or even Bach by Denis Podalydès, being chosen to play La Môme gives Josiane Balasko infinite pleasure.

It’s a great experience for his 50-year career. An artistic challenge too, both the exercise on the ridge line. “Without moving, without scenery, without light, without anyone to respond to, you have to make the text come alive,” explains the actress. You have to alternate between reading the text and suddenly becoming incarnated in the person without imitating.”

Josiane Balasko worked on the lyrics at home and listened to songs like Non, je ne regrette rien. No question of singing the tunes of La Môme though. “I am an actress and director, not a singer even if I sang in Tratala, a film by the Larrieu brothers released in 2021. Piaf’s songs, I will chant them, hum them.” Its seven episodes of ten minutes each will be broadcast on and on the Radio France app from April 10 with the release of a complementary book (*).

Intended to perpetuate the memory of great artists, “the intimate diary of…” had immediate success. “Specialist in concerts for young audiences where I linked their History lessons to that of the Arts so that they have a complete panorama”, the producer Marianne Vourch first wrote The Mozart Intimate Diary at the request of a editor. “I wrote while hearing it, hence the idea for the podcast,” she remembers. On the radio, the elaborate production is designed by a quartet. Jean Brémont is in charge of the archives. Marianne Vourch produces and writes the text. After recording the actor's naked voice, director Sophie Pichon edits it by adding sound effects and music. “I bring out the reliefs, I create a rhythm to arouse emotions. I knit and then the sound taker Valentin Azan colors my painting.” And added: “Each series is chronological since it is a personal diary but they do not systematically go from birth to death. The one about Piaf stops at his meeting with Théo Sarapo.” The director has a coquettishness: she slips in a sound gimmick which returns in each episode. Every time Chopin falls ill, the credits of The Fourth Dimension return and become more and more distorted. For Rudoph Nureyev, these are traditional songs associated with the rubbing of pointe shoes on a dance floor. The next diaries will be those of Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe. It remains to find the associated voices.

Seven episodes (ten minutes each) on and on the Radio France app from April 10. To read The Journal of Edith Piaf, by Marianne Vourch, 84 pages, €24, Éditions Villanelle.

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