Marguerite Review
4.5Overall Score

Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot) cannot sing, but she thinks she can. That’s the essence of the comedy within Xavier Giannoli’s Marguerite, which thankfully doesn’t conceive of itself as much of a comedy. We open away from Marguerite, with the limpid flirtation between music critic Lucien Beaumont (Sylvain Dieuaide) and lowly conservatory grad Hazel (Christa Théret) leading us into the isolated, grand home of the Baroness Dumont and her husband Georges (André Marcon), where the latest party of the Baroness’ patroned music society is in full swing. Hazel, glassy eyed and surely too waifish for such a voice, is half of a performance of Delibes’ ‘The Flower Duet’ that provides a standard Marguerite will shortly fail spectacularly in meeting.

We hear of Marguerite before we meet her, see her in photos of decadent costume, and her first words on camera are of concern for her absent husband. He’s up the road, sabotaging his motorcar to provide adequate reason for missing his wife’s latest disaster. Only it’s not a disaster; Marguerite sings badly, to be sure, as emphasised by the close-ups provided to awkward grimaces, children hiding under tables and a peacock feather bounced atop Marguerite’s head. But everyone applauds, brava!s, and soon we understand the long-standing pretence kept up by everyone. Marguerite holds the money to her husband’s illusory title, and both staff and guests allow her delusions to blossom.

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Were things so simple, Marguerite might be an amusing but mean-spirited superficial whimsy. From these humble beginnings, though, Giannoli takes us into a story with surprising and unpredictable complexity, anchored by a superlative performance from a – uh – note-perfect Catherine Frot, whose tenacious vulnerability is as astounding as that phrase sounds. After Beaumont’s ironically praiseworthy reviews delights Marguerite, he and his eccentric artist friend Kyril (Aubert Fenoy) invite her to perform at an avant-garde performance evening, where she spreads her white cape and trills ‘Le Marseillaise’ while anarchic moving images are projected onto her. In this one moment, Marguerite, both film and woman, is at the critical intersection of so many social moments – from the feminism of her denying her husband’s suppressive dismissal, to the cultural revolution of Kyril’s rejection of archaic social structures, to the jazz age combatting the classical – that Giannoli both boldly confronts and more subtly inspects throughout.

Marguerite opens with the familiar proclamation that it is ‘based on a true story’, and said story is that of Florence Foster Jenkins, an American socialite of the 1940s, whose life will be dramatised in the forthcoming biopic starring Meryl Streep. Whatever the outcome of that film, Marguerite’s fictionalisation demonstrates the strength of cinema in capturing the essence of human truth. Increasingly, the film bleeds both pity and admiration for its title character, whom Frot never quite unveils fully, mastering facial expressions that seem to both conceal and reveal her interior melancholy. At one point, hired ‘maestro’ Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau) comes closer than anyone to pulling the rug out from Marguerite’s delusion, and the film lingers on her frozen look, fear mingling with a plea – or a command – to reign it back in.

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Fascinating from top to bottom – we haven’t even touched on the magnetic Denis Mpunga as Marguerite’s imposing, slightly macabre head butler Mandelbos, the Erich von Stroheim to Marguerite’s Norma Desmond, enabling her delusions  while pruriently collating a spread of her photos in his photolab – Marguerite delves deep beyond the inherent comedic potential of a woman treated as a joke, finding the loneliness within and exploring how society has fostered such a desperate state of affairs. Decadently but not excessively appointed with flawless period features, Marguerite proves as surprisingly unmissable as the wild vocal overtures of the woman herself.

Marguerite is in cinemas from Friday 18 March.

About The Author

Born in Birmingham and now living in London, David took a love of cinema through two degrees, capping them off with a dissertation on Julianne Moore. (He likes to think he helped her win the Oscar.) He currently works in commercial advertising at Hearst UK and watches as many films as he can in his spare time. You can frequently find him beholden to the visage of Jessica Chastain.

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