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Off-Key but On-Target: Marguerite

Off-Key but On-Target: Marguerite

The Oscars may be over, but there is one more performance
from last year you shouldn’t miss, now that the film is being released to
American theaters: Catherine Frot in Marguerite.
It received four Cesar Awards (France’s equivalent to the Oscar) including
Best Actress for its luminous leading lady.

         You will also
want to see Marguerite as a point of
comparison to the upcoming film in which Meryl Streep plays Florence Foster
Jenkins, the infamous society woman of the 1930s and 40s who loved to sing
classical music and did it badly. The American film, I gather, is biographical,
while Marguerite is an imagining
inspired by Jenkins and set in 1920s France. (Jenkins was also the subject of a
wonderful one-woman show called Souvenir
that starred Judy Kaye.)

         The success of
the film hinges on our ability to empathize with the title character as played
by Frot, a wealthy baroness whose sweet, sad-eyed face reflects innocence and a
kind of purity that is completely at odds with her wildly off-key performances
of operatic arias. Strangers might laugh at the sounds that emanate from her
larynx, but she is surrounded by friends, servants, recipients of her
generosity, and a husband who no longer loves her but will do everything in his
power to keep her from being ridiculed.  

         Writer-director
Xavier Giannoli (who collaborated on the screenplay with Marcia Romano) captures
our hearts with this touching portrait and populates the film with colorful and
interesting characters: a husband (André Marcon) who feels trapped in a
loveless marriage, a mysterious butler/valet (Denis Mpunga) who attends to her
much as Erich von Stroheim does with Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd., a talented young singer (Christa Théret) whose
glorious voice is everything Marguerite’s is not, and a former opera star
(Michel Fau) who is reduced to tutoring a talent-free woman whose heart is in
the right place.

         Marguerite is a poignant and affecting
film that has lingered in my mind, along with Frot’s glowing performance. At a
time when Hollywood is releasing its low-grade product (as it tends to do this
time of year) there is more reason than ever to seek out high-quality imports
such as this.

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