Catherine Frot is divine in a drama which swings between farce and tragedy
Channelling the lavish eccentricity of Peter Greenaway, Xavier Giannoli brings to screen the true story of a tuneless wannabe opera singer, with ample cinematic oomph. Decked out beautifully in the feather-flanked, jewel-encrusted trimmings of 1920s France (beautifully captured by cinematographer Glynn Speeckaert), Marguerite is a very loose adaptation of the life of Florence Foster Jenkins, sneaking into the release schedule just ahead of the more directly biographical Meryl Streep vehicle.
Catherine Frot plays Baroness Marguerite Dumont, a middle-aged socialite and opera obsessive who sings for sport at social gatherings and is showered with praise despite a thunderous lack of aptitude. Her husband Georges (André Marcon) has grown weary of the deceit which, nevertheless, continues to be enthusiastically maintained by her loyal butler Madelbos (Denis Mpunga). Marguerite takes a fledgling, genuinely talented singer, Hazel (Christa Théret), under her wing but is thrust into the limelight personally when young critic Lucien (Sylvain Dieuaide) pens a suspiciously glowing review.
Anchored by a divine, César-winning Frot – who keeps the giddiness grounded as she ensures that the aching sadness behind Marguerite’s apparently deluded front is visible from the very start – Giannoli’s film is by turns cruel and kind. At the core is a gently told love story whose tragedy rings true; Marguerite is desperate to grab the attention of a husband who no longer sees her and in doing so renders herself a laughing stock – her self-deception becoming part of the fabric of her being. It also expertly evokes Sunset Boulevard in its depiction of the devoted manservant, offering a twist on that particular tale, and although it satirises the ability of the rich to indulge their every whim and buy silence, such commentary is peppered with no shortage of compassion.
The sensitivity of its lead performance and the style of the execution glosses over some of the narrative failings (given its generous runtime the subplots and supporting players are given unnecessarily short shrift). Regardless, this sumptuous story of an incompetent songbird will warm your heart as surely as it hammers at your eardrums.
Selected release from Fri 18 Mar.