Not far from 1921 Paris, it's party time at Marguerite Dumont's (Catherine Frot) castle. Like every year. 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 hypocritical audience, always coming 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. This gives her the courage she needs to follow her dream. Despite the reluctance of her husband Georges (Andrˇ Marcon) and with the help of a has-been divo, Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau), who is both funny and mean, she decides to rehearse for her first recital in front of a crowd of complete strangers. (Loosely inspired by the life of Florence Foster Jenkins.)
Review by Louise Keller:
Music, love and money are the elements of this unusual story in which delusion and deception are bedfellows. Based on a true story about a wealthy Baroness with more money than musical talent, it's comic and tragic all at once as the ripple effect of one little deception impacts on a woman's self esteem, her marriage and the fortunes of the hangers on.
For Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot at her magnificent best), singing is a substitute for her husband's lack of affection. He has the title; she has the money. The fact that she does not realise that her sense of pitch is severely impaired is extraordinary and it is credit to director Xavier Giannoli who also wrote the screenplay, that the film's tone is perfect - and credible. We become part of the two worlds: Marguerite's delusional world and that of all those around her.
Giannoli's screenplay is clever in that by the time Marguerite makes her appearance to perform at her elegant chateau in 20s Paris surrounded by her inner circle, we can see how the deception has evolved. Her trusted, loyal manservant Madelbos (Denis Mpunga, wonderful) is always at hand, feeding her delusion - photographing her in different operatic costumes, driving her wherever she needs to go and accompanying her on the piano. He is also there handing out ear plugs to the regulars who frequent her private concerts.
The film begins at one such concert to aid war orphans and it is through the eyes of two newcomers: the journalist Lucien (Sylvain Dieuaide) and radical Kyrill (Aubert Fenoy), that we enter the complex world of Marguerite. Andre Marcon is superb as her deeply conflicted husband, Georges. Even his mistress understands and is sympathetic. Things become trickier and trickier as opera star Atos Pezzini (larger-than-life Michel Fau, a stand out) is asked to take Marguerite on as a pupil - something he will not do until he has heard her sing. Watching Fau's expressive face as he hears her sing off-key for the first time, is fascinating. Watch out for his entourage comprising of the psychic bearded lady, the needy personal assistant and the deaf pianist.
Giannoli's approach is a sympathetic one and we become involved not only in Marguerite's life but also of those closest to her. As a result, there's a poignancy about the tale and we feel for all the characters. The exposition is divided into five chapters and by the time the final one plays out, as Marguerite is about to perform in a concert hall in front of strangers whose reaction is unknown, the stakes are at their highest. How will they react and more importantly, how will Marguerite respond? As for the final photograph that Madelbos wants to shoot, what will it show?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Winner of four Cesar Awards in France (Nominated for 11), Marguerite is clearly an accomplished work, taking a real American story as its inspiration - and then imaging it in French culture. The story is only plausible in the context of the period: immediately after WWI, when society worked in different ways. And there is a certain na•ve charm about the idea of a woman who screeches thinking she is a soprano of note (pardon the pun) and invites guests to party at her mansion. Then there is the tragedy of it.
Catherine Frot is a wonderful actress, and she is well able to convince us of this unusual character, who has a complexity that we take time to work through. She can be the butt of musical the banana peel and at the same time triumph with determination against her insufficiency. Frot gives her depth, texture, heart and artistic ambition.
Frot is surrounded by her caring husband Georges (Andrˇ Marcon) whose his mistress Fran¨oise (Astrid Whettnall) seems to care for Marguerite almost as much as he does; two excellent performances. The talented and genuine young soprano Hazel (Christa Thˇret); two young men who are seduced in their different ways by Marguerite - one a journalist (Sylvain Dieuaide) the other a happy go lucky anarchist (Aubert Fenoy) - eccentrics who nonetheless offer valued support (in both senses); the devoted black manservant of the Dumont household, Madelbos (Denis Mpunga, with minimalist excellence) who observes and photographs it all; and the fading tenor, Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau), an intriguing figure, as operatic as his work, who is recruited to prepare Marguerite for her first big concert in public. Others include a lightly bearded lady and a dwarf ...
It is indeed a carnival of characters - and they all play a role in showing - variously - the hypocrisy of her band of 'admirers', enjoying her champagne while smirking at her, or the complexities of loyalty, as in the case of her husband and most notably in the case of Madelbos.
Ultimately the film succeeds - and has won such a following - because it doesn't treat Marguerite as an object of ridicule; we giggle at her singing but not at her.
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CAST: Catherine Frot, Andrˇ Marcon, Michel Fau, Christa Thˇret, Denis Mpunga, Sylvain Dieuaide, Aubert Fenoy, Sophie Leboutte
PRODUCER: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonier
DIRECTOR: Xavier Gianolli
SCRIPT: Xavier Gianolli
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Glynn Speeckaert
EDITOR: Cyril Nakache
MUSIC: Ronan Maillard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Martin Kurel
RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 21, 2016