“1921, the beginning of the Golden Twenties. Not far from Paris it is party day at Marguerite Dumont’s castle. Like every year, an array of music lovers gathers around a great cause at the owner’s place. Nobody knows much about this woman except that she is rich and that her whole life is devoted to her passion: music. Marguerite sings. She sings wholeheartedly, but she sings terribly out of tune. Marguerite has been living her passion in her own bubble, and the hypocrite audience, always coming in for a good laugh, acts as if she was the diva she believes she is. When a young, provocative journalist decides to write a rave article on her latest performance, Marguerite starts to believe even further in her talent. Despite her husband’s reluctance, and with the help of a has-been divo, both funny and mean, she decides to train for her first recital in front of a crowd of complete strangers.”
I saw Marguerite last night, the French Florence Foster Jenkins. Not a real life biopic on Florence and her life, rather ‘inspired by Florence Foster Jenkins’. I was looking forward to seeing this, having seen the American movie only a couple of weeks ago actually called Florence Foster Jenkins. I half expected the movies to be similar … but no. Non. Nope.
Marguerite is an unnerving portrait of a passionate fragile woman whose eccentricities are encouraged by those around her, driving her on until she goes completely mad. Yep.
Director Xavier Giannoli says he first heard Florence singing on the radio about 10 years ago. Once he discovered her story and learnt that for whatever reason nobody told her she was singing badly, this exposed a cruel side to human nature that he wanted to explore. Mais oui! He executes his character’s descent into hell so well. Does a person have to be a good singer in order to sing? In public, perhaps the answer is yes?
Marguerite is played by Catherine Frot, who won the prestigious César award for Best Actress and Lumières award for Best Actress in this role. She is breathtaking, she takes this woman, this fictitious person, and her performance makes you believe in Marguerite. You know she’s not going to, but you want her to succeed. We, the audience, become part of this deception – and are thus part of Marguerite’s downfall.
“Marguerite is like all of us because we need to have illusions” (Xavier Giannoli)
To further emphasise Marguerite’s off-key singing, throughout the whole movie are beautiful operatic pieces. These swept me away (listen below). Marguerite has a pet peacock on her estate and the filmmakers have great fun inserting its miaows whenever there’s a pause. Another level of audio discord for audience discomfort!
Marguerite’s is an absolutely stunning house and the costumes, lighting and shooting style wonderful. Apparently they shot using 1950’s lenses. Very cool. It is set in 1920s France, an exciting era, but also one of conflict as old traditions made way for new artistic and personal freedoms. Like, a woman opening a shop on her own, a woman disobeying her husband’s wishes and singing in public.
There is so much more I could talk about, like the husband, the singing teacher, the young opera diva, and the journalists. Maybe we could talk after you’ve seen it.
This is the sort of movie that demands you think about it – probably for weeks afterwards. I like that. It’s an influencer, it has potential to change its audience.
Opens in NZ June 16th.
And here is the beautiful world famous tune I can’t stop playing today “Duo des Fleurs” by Delibes: