Sixty years after Edith Piaf’s death, AI is enabling the iconic French singer to narrate a film about her life.
“AI technology trained on hundreds of voice clips and images, some of which are over 80 years old, will allow for Piaf’s distinct voice and image to be revived to further enhance the authenticity and emotional impact of her story,” Warner Music Group said in a statement on Tuesday.
Warner Music is partnering with Piaf’s estate for Edith, which unfolds on the streets of Paris and New York and will feature original recordings of her signature songs, including “La vie en rose” (Life in pink) and “Non, je ne regrette rien” (No, I don’t regret anything). The 90-minute biopic will include archival footage of her stage and television performances, personal footage and interviews with the chanteuse, who was also known as “The Little Sparrow” for her small stature and nervous energy.
Piaf, one of the most celebrated performers of the 20th century, was best known for torch ballads and chanson realiste, or realist song, a genre typically performed by women, with lyrics that often touched on the lives of Paris’ poor and working class citizens. Many of Piaf’s songs were autobiographical.
Piaf was born to street performers, abandoned by her mother at birth and raised by her grandmother in a brothel. Piaf first began to sing publicly at 14, when she joined her father, a circus acrobat, as he performed all over France. She rose to international stardom in the late 1930s, but faced significant challenges, surviving three serious car accidents and battling drug and alcohol addiction.
The film will “uncover aspects of her life that were previously unknown—showcasing her indomitable spirit, personal achievements and incredible performances,” Warner Music Group said.
Director and writer Julie Veille conceived of Edith and co-wrote it with Gilles Marliac. A proof-of-concept version of the film has already been developed, Warner Music Group said, and Warner Music Entertainment will produce the full-length film in concert with a studio. Warner Music Group did not say when the film will be released.
This isn’t the first time AI has brought a deceased celebrity’s voice back to life on screen. In 2021, an ethics debate followed the revelation that the Anthony Bourdain documentary Roadrunner included an AI model of his voice mixed in, and indistinguishable from, recordings of his voice taken from television and podcasts. Some criticized the choice to include snippets of the chef and travel documentarian’s AI-generated voice, calling it unethical and even “pretty grotesque.”
The filmmaker behind Roadrunner said he’d received assurance from Bourdain’s widow that her husband would have been comfortable with the use of AI in the film.
Ottavia Bourdain then pushed back, tweeting that “I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.”
So far at least, it appears unlikely Edith will experience similar resistance from those in Piaf’s circle. Catherine Glavas and Christie Laume, executors of Piaf’s estate, have already expressed their enthusiasm for the way AI helps make the singer come alive.
“It’s been a special and touching experience to be able to hear Edith’s voice once again,” said in a statement. “The technology has made it feel like we were back in the room with her.”