Movie: Marguerite (2015)

My grandmother on my mother’s side loved to sing, and she did so frequently, joyously, and loudly.  Alas, also poorly.  I’m not sure she was ever aware she sang badly, as I don’t know if anybody ever told her.  I know I didn’t.  On the other hand, I bet I cringed a lot when she sang and I wonder if she ever noticed.  I know I never gave her any positive feedback.

The title character of 2015’s Marguerite is a wealthy socialite with a similar disparity between passion for, and quality of, her singing.  And she is vastly worse than my grandmother.  She is even worse than the recordings I have heard of Florence Foster Jenkins, the real-life inspiration for this story.

The film largely straddles a fine line as to whether Marguerite is either oblivious to, or indifferent towards, everybody’s reaction to her performances.  By the end of the movie, the evidence for the former is overwhelming.

Lost in her own world, she holds recitals for friends that laugh up their sleeves, that is the friends that don’t bolt into other rooms and only return when they hear the applause at the end.  A couple of young mean connected to the arts exploit her for a Dadaist performance, which results in her losing friends.  A professional opera singer ready to be put out to pasture is hired to give her lessons but seems to do little more than stare bug-eyed in disbelief and damn her with faint praise.  Her husband tries everything he can to prevent her from performing publicly, but it is fear of the impact to his reputation which concerns him.

I’ll admit I initially laughed at one of those performances, though I soon realized I was laughing at her.  If we had been laughing with her, it would have made a world of difference. 

Catherine Frot is superb in this starring role, and received a Best Actress César for it.  Unfortunately, this movie is not deserving of her performance.

Everything I read about this picture primarily described it as a comedy, and I disagree with that classification for a few reasons.  First, there isn’t anything to laugh at here, unless you’re joining in the mockery of a delusional character.  Second, even if you consider the moments with her horrific singing to be humorous, this is overwhelmingly a serious drama.

In my notes I took down while watching this, many of my observations concerning the nature of each supporting character were turned on their head by the end.  In the end, I didn’t find any characters I really liked except the lead.  Although she would only be able to get away with her recitals because of her wealth, I wanted to protect her.  She seems so fragile and passionate about what she wants to do.

I did not care for the context the filmmakers provide for the proceedings.  It seems to posit she is desperate for attention she is not getting from her husband.  Never mind she is happiest when she is singing.  So, by the film’s logic, she must be trying to compensate for lack of affection.  A doctor proposes she basically needs 20cc of cock.

Betraying nothing, I have to say the movie commits multiple betrayals towards the end, starting with a baffling development that comes out of nowhere.  Almost immediately, the plot nosedives into straight melodrama.  At the end, somebody who was my favorite character for most of the runtime commits a curious, cold act of betrayal.  And, yet, in the end, I feel it is the audience who has been betrayed.

It is too late now, but I wish I had said nice things to my grandmother about her singing, despite my feelings about it.  Regardless, it would have likely been unnecessary as she seemed unconcerned.  As for the movie Marguerite, I only wish Frot’s character could happily caterwaul to her heart’s content for all time.  Unfortunately, this is a great character deserving of a much better film.

Dir: Xavier Giannoli

Starring Catherine Frot, André Marcon, Michel Fau
Watched on blu-ray