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France 2015
Directed by
Xavier Giannoli
127 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars


Synopsis: The year is 1920 and once again Baroness Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot) holds an annual music soiree at her opulent chateau near Paris. Each year she also performs but her singing is out of tune and she doesn’t realise it. Attendees at the concert either go to have a laugh or because her wealth may benefit them. When a young reviewer, Lucien Beaumont (Sylvaine Dieuaide), decides, perversely, to give her a rave review, Marguerite is heartened and decides to rehearse for a big public concert. Her husband, Georges (Andre Marcon), usually goes along with the charade but tries desperately to dissuade her from a public appearance. Marguerite is however aided and abetted in her misguided project by her mysterious personal servant Madelbos (Denis Mpunga).

Marguerite is a fascinating film, which has already won four French Césars, including a deserved Best Actress for Frot. For those who have seen the trailer for the upcoming film called Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep, your feeling that the stories are similar is justified. Giannoli read copious articles about Jenkins and decided to transplant the plot to Paris in the Roaring Twenties.

Essentially Marguerite is a film about loneliness, self-delusion, lies and deceit, but it also has a strong and critical plot thread relating to the character Madelbos and what it means to create a fantasy using another person. Although Marguerite’s singing made me squirm in my seat, I couldn’t help but feel desperately sorry for this woman who actually adores good music, listens endlessly to “the greats”, but is so tone-deaf and self-deluded that she believes that she too can sing “Queen of the Night” from Mozart’s 'The Magic Flute'. "Queen of the Nightmare" more like it! Her duping by a neglectful husband, who is embarrassed by her, and a gaggle of sycophants who laugh behind her back is a tragedy. Only the seemingly-devoted servant Madelbos supports her passion – he takes copious photos of her in all manner of operatic costume and feeds her fantasy, while having his own agenda (which is cleverly revealed in the film’s denouement).

The film is structured according to chapters, most somewhat satirical in their titles. In the third episode, entitled “Towards Glory”, we are introduced to the impressive character of Pezzini, an overweight opera singer who is hired to tutor Marguerite in preparation for her public debut. Michel Fau, well-known French comedian, director and actor plays this role with mischievous relish.

It is perhaps hard to accept that a woman who sings so atrociously could have deceived herself for so long, even in the day before tape recorders, but once over my suspension of disbelief about this, I found myself drawn into the plot, itself an operatic mix of tragedy and comedy. Frot is pitch-perfect (pun intended!) in her approach to the role – although we snigger at her, the underlying vulnerability and naiveté shine through, along with her passion for music and art, deluded as she may be in this respect. We can laugh at her and cry for her simultaneously.

The film’s glorious period setting is something in which to visually revel, as is the cinematographic handling of every scene - as well as the Art Deco costumes, there are the rich ornate interiors, expensive but unreliable jalopies, and the thematically important antique cameras and darkroom equipment. Marguerite’s broad collection of operatic costumes is an added treat in the film’s rich visual canvas, but so too is some fine music. A young aspiring singer Hazel (Christa Theret) joins in an exquisite duet of “The Flower Song” from 'Lakme' and the music is truly exhilarating and a welcome relief from our central character’s screeching.

Marguerite is a film which makes optimal use of the visual medium and along with a great cast, a powerful central performance and a smart plot, it provides a memorable cinema experience.




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