Xavier Giannoli’s Marguerite is a fabulous tragi-comedy which cleverly explores the relationship between celebrity, power and money while never forgetting for an instant the thigh-slapping humour to be wrung from the story of a chronically tone-deaf singer who dreams of fame as an opera star. Giannoli’s film is based on the true story of New York heiress Florence Foster Jenkins who insisted on singing in public despite being severely tonally-challenged. Giannoli sets his film during France’s Les Années Folles, a period when Paris was alive with creative energy and surrealism, dada and cubism were at the foreront of the avant-garde movement. But there’s nothing faintly artistic about Marguerite’s voice. It’s indescribably bad and yet no-one dares to speak the truth. By rights, Marguerite should be a fool with more money than sense, but Giannoli’s lead character is a fragile, lonely, middle-aged woman who loves music and the spectacle of the opera above all else. And Catherine Frot, marking her return to the big screen after a three-year absence, is pitch-perfect as the naïve, delusional, Marguerite whose unbearable singing and pretentious artistic ambitions leave the audience debating whether to laugh or cry. After the disappointing Superstar, this film definitely marks Giannoli’s return to form.
The time is 1920s Paris and Marguerite Dumont is a rich woman who lives for music and the opera. For many years, she has sung before a select group of friends who have all conspired, for various selfish reasons, to hide the dreadful truth about her singing. Egged on by a group of young admirers, she decides to hire a professional singing coach and stage her own public concert. Ignoring the advice of others, Marguerite throws herself body and soul into prepararing for her first public performance – a performance she believes could be her springboard to stardom.
Frot is surrounded by a cast of fine actors including André Marcon as her husband Georges and Congolese-born actor Denis Mpunga as Marguerite’s valet Madelbos. Giannoli is not the only director to have recently taken an interest in the career of Foster Jenkins. Cinemagoers will soon be able to see British director Stephen Frears’ (Philomena, My Beautiful Laundrette) take on this bizarre story with non other than Oscar winning American actress Meryl Streep in the lead role.