Marguerite tells the tale of Marguerite Dumont, a wealthy socialite and a lover of opera who has everything apart from the ability to sing. Her husband and friends have kept alive her fantasy of being a vocalist but surely humiliation is inevitable as she decides to perform in front of a real audience.
Directed by Xavier Giannoli, Marguerite is the first in a season of Showcase Spotlight films. The stunning film was inspired by the life of the 1940s American singer Florence Foster Jenkins. The French director has said that when he first heard Florence Foster Jenkins sing on the radio it sounded as though “someone was strangling Mozart’s cat.”
Regular readers of our blog will recall that we saw another film based on the famous heiress, Foster Florence Jenkins from director Stephen Frears a few weeks ago. Not wishing to make a standard bio-pic, Giannoli has instead moved his drama to the 1920s with acclaimed French actress Catherine Frot playing the title character. The pampered socialite has money, connections, and a lavish lifestyle and yet the one thing she hankers after more than anything is to sing and entertain. Tragically, no one can bear to crush her dream and do their level-best to keep away any naysayers.
In fact, the angel wings shown in the film’s poster were Jenkins’s onstage trademark. Tragically her lack of vocal talent was such that upon hearing her, one reviewer wrote, “Her singing at its finest suggests the untrammeled swoop of some great bird.”
If you check out the film's UK trailer you can hear the music of composers such as Bach, Bizet, Handel and Mozart like you have never heard before. Frot’s Marguerite shrieks and wails her way through The Queen of the Night’s first aria from The Magic Flute, as the faces of her audience show every emotion: anguish to amusement and then pity.
Marguerite was a huge box office hit in France and Europe, receiving a stunning eleven nominations at the 41st Cesar Awards. It is absolutely no surprise that the statuette for Best Actress was awarded to Catherine Frot; her performance is quite magnificent. It is a touching powerhouse performance which will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
The film also picked up awards for Production Design, Costume Design and Sound at the ceremony held on February 21 this year.
If you have yet to see a film from director Giannoli, a common theme is his insightful take on ambition and success. The attention-hungry Marguerite is in complete contrast to the hero of the French director’s previous feature, Superstar (a 2012 Venice Golden Bear nominee) who was a shy everyman who wakes up to find himself inexplicably famous overnight.
For us a key ingredient in the success of Marguerite is that we, the audience, laugh with, but not at Marguerite herself; rather we share in her tragedy. Her philosophy that ‘either we dream life or we accomplish it’, is apt for us today with the glut of ‘talent’ shows on our screens where talent and lofty dreams all too often do not run parallel. Thankfully, Giannoli’s film achieves in spades what Marguerite Dumont cannot: perfect pitch!
Marguerite is at Showcase Cinemas on April 28 and May 3 as part of the Showcase Spotlight season