Florence Foster Jenkins has to have one of the most angelic voices to ever surface in history… said no one ever. The ear-piercing songstress has been the inspiration for two very different films set to be released this April. The first is Xavier Giannoli’s film Marguerite.
Set in France during the 1920’s, we arrive at the mansion of socialite Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot), where - by invitation only - a recital for a private audience is about to take place. The place is buzzing with anticipation for what is surely going to be a memorable performance. Through the eyes of critic Lucien Beaumont (Sylvain Dieuaide) and his friend Kyril (Aubert Lenoy) a self styled anarchist artist, the mysterious woman herself is introduced. As Marguerite graces the stage, poised in her peacock feathered headdress, she begins the first few bars of Mozart’s “The Queen of the Night Aria,” the voice that is released is none other then a glass shattering pitch and at best a cringe-worthy performance.
Unlike everyone else who sniggers behind their hands, it’s the bohemian Lucien and Kyril who truly see Marguerite for the performer she is. Lucien writes a rave review of her latest performance, which pushes Marguerite even further into the glass menagerie believing that her talent has sored to even greater heights. This gives her the courage she needs to pursue her dreams. With the help of a has-been Divo and his band of misfits, she decides to train for her first recital in front of a crowd of strangers.
Frot’s performance is the highlight of the film; she plays the character of Marguerite with enormous conviction. There is a pure innocence about her character that is almost childlike in her view of the world. She sees the best in everyone - sometimes almost to a fault. Marguerite is presented with such sensitivity that instead of laughing at the women you feel an abundance of sympathy for her. So much is going on around her and yet she is blind to all of it – particularly on the part of her self-interested husband.
Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), who is her over protective and very much smitten butler reflects the audience’s patient and empathetic point-of-view. He acts as her personal photographer who sets up her many over the top photo shoots (complete with props and costumes), or tears out the pages from newspaper that make a mockery of her and her performances.
Xavier Giannoli’s direction is a perfect representation of what is so likeable about French cinema. There’s a surrealist aspect in the fact that the audience and characters are constantly stuck in a strange limbo of illusion. Marguerite herself suggests, “Either we dream life or we accomplish it”. Liberation is another fundamental aspect to the character; it is with her singing that she is able to escape from her everyday life. The film highlights the individual and the acceptance of the absurdity of human existence.
A paradox of emotions are felt throughout Marguerite, it’s funny and tragic - as are most of the characters. There is a sense of loneliness to each of the souls and yet they are constantly surrounded by each other. Things seem simple yet at closer glance are a lot more complex. The true shining strength of this film is music, and its power. Whether it’s the power to move a person to tears, or how it can inspire one to conquer their greatest fears, even the way in which it can destroy one’s grasp on reality.
Marguerite opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday April 21.