Foster Jenkins was the William Hung of the early Twentieth Century. She loved
opera, but it didn’t love her back. Her infamous rendition of Mozart’s Queen of the Night remains a perversely
popular novelty recording, easily found online. The strangely immortal Jenkins’
life and art, such as it was, has now inspired a Gallic doppelganger, the title
character of Xavier Giannoli’s Marguerite
opens this Friday in New York.
Dumont was blessed with a sizable fortune, a love of culture, and a singing voice
that sounds like cats being strangled. However, she since she cannot really
hear herself, those around her willingly indulge her artistic pretensions, due
to said fortune. Her philandering husband Georges owes his title to her, but he
finds her private recitals excruciatingly painful to attend. Probably Dumont’s
biggest booster is their imposing butler-steward-fixer Madelbos, who regularly
photographs his mistress in iconic opera costumes. Yet, his deep down, motivations
are crueler than the rest of the hangers-on feeding her delusions.
Marguerite is a tricky sort of film
to pull off, but Giannoli modulates it perfectly. We do not want to feel like
the hipster anarchists who snarkily mock Dumont behind her back, but there is
still no denying the jaw-dropping, ear-rattling spectacle of her performances.
Somehow, Giannoli and his lead Catherine Frot walk that fine line quite
Frot is indeed terrific as Dumont. She gives a big, expansive performance, but
always clearly conveys the sensitivity of Dumont’s soul. The audience never resents
her eccentricity or privilege. Rather, we hope against hope she will somehow
start to hit those high notes. André Marcon also slowly teases out unexpected
emotion from her initially cold fish-like husband, while Denis Mpunga’s
commanding and somewhat ominous presence makes Madelbos a force to be reckoned
Marguerite is a classy
period production that elegantly recreates the trapping of Golden 1920s France.
It is quite amazing how easily it relates to contemporary pop culture. Frankly,
Dumont and Jenkins would probably be even bigger celebrities today than they
were in their day. With that in mind, it is not surprising there is a
straight-up Florence Foster Jenkins bio-picture in the works, but the casting
of Meryl Streep as the off-key soprano should make cineastes blood run cold. It
is the subtly of Giannoli’s approach and Frot’s performance that make Marguerite such an entertaining and
ultimately quietly moving film. Of course, Streep hasn’t done subtly in years.
is a film of chaste passion and (admittedly
misplaced) artistic devotion. There is something rather touching and maybe even
inspiring about the portrait that emerges. Frankly, it is exactly the sort of
graceful French film that could become a breakout arthouse hit. Highly
recommended, Marguerite opens this
Friday (3/11) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center downtown and the Paris
Labels: Catherine Frot, Florence Foster Jenkins, French Cinema