Marguerite – Film Review by Pat V.
Director: Xavier Giannoli
Writers: Xavier Giannoli (dialogue), Xavier Giannoli (screenplay)
Stars: Catherine Frot, André Marcon, Michel Fau
In advance of Stephen Frears’ biopic of Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep in the title role and which is due for release later this year, French director, Xavier Giannoli, has set a version of the same story in 1920s France in his latest film, Marguerite. Like Jenkins, the heroine of Giannoli’s film, Marguerite (winningly portrayed by Catherine Frot who won a César for the role), is a rich society lady with a love of music and an obsession about being a concert performer but unfortunately does not have a talent to equal her passion.
In the opening scene we meet her at her country château where she is getting ready to perform before an invited audience at a charity event she has organised. After several opening numbers by guest musicians, Marguerite finally enters the scene crowned with a peacock’s feather, and her rendition of Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria is so strident and out of tune, that the guests don’t know whether to laugh, applaud or flee discreetly to another room. Unaware of the effect she is having, Marguerite continues and because of her wealth and influence, like with the Emperor’s New Clothes, no one is prepared to tell her the truth.
Among her guests are a young soprano, Hazel (Christa Theret), and two young men who have come to the recital uninvited, music critic, Lucien Beaumont (Sylvain Dieuaide) and avant-garde artist, Kyrill Von Priest (Aubrey Fenoy) As a jest Beaumont writes a review extolling Marguerite’s talent in a major French newspaper the next day thus confirming her delusions about her talent and ensuring that she continues singing. She is protected from reality by her faithful servant, Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), who hides all the bad reviews and by her husband, Georges (André Marcon), who lacks the courage to tell her the truth.
[Spoiler Paragraph] The story moves from farce towards tragedy when Marguerite falls under the influence of a flamboyant, pompous music teacher (Michel Fau) and his coterie of oddities who encourage her to takes to the stage at the Paris Opera wearing a pair of feathered wings (a costume worn by Jenkins in real life at her Carnegie Hall concert). The concert is a flop and leads to a breakdown and a slow decline worthy of the opera heroines she revered.
In the title role Catherine Frot is captivating. Her innocence and fragility win us over even when she is at her most grotesque and though she is totally lacking in self-knowledge, she is imbued with a blind self-belief and sense of integrity. Her entourage all exploit her: her husband who will not forgo the financial benefits of their marriage though he has a mistress on the side; even her faithful Madelbos, who seems to be her only true friend, takes a series of photos of her hoping to sell them in the future. Though not unaware of their motives, she generously chooses to ignore them.
The sub-plot of Hazel’s rise to fame and her complicated love life is unnecessary and as the film is over two hours long, could certainly have been omitted. It is only when Marguerite is on screen that our attention is fully engaged. Like those around her, at first we laugh at her, then we cringe for her and finally she wins us over completely and we wish that the world had been kinder to her. This is a charming and moving film and one to avoid only if you are hyper-sensitive to discordant singing!
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