Cast includes: Catherine Frot (The Page Turner), André Marcon (The Page Turner), Christa Théret (Renoir), Denis Mpunga (In the Name of the Son), Sylvain Dieuaide (Waiting for Someone), Aubert Fenoy (La Vie en Rose)
Director: Xavier Giannoli (The Singer, In the Beginning)
Genre: Drama | Satire (129 minutes) French with subtitles
The poster tells us “The Great Marguerite Dumont” will be performing for members of the Amadeus Club here at the grand Dumont estate. It’s September 1920, and the elegant guests saunter in, bejeweled and decked out in their finest. Madelbos stops Hazel… despite her loveliness, she’s not bejeweled or decked out. Madelbos, who has the look of an imposing black Buddha, hardly needs to speak… he casts a glance at her shoes. “I walked from the station,” she says. Hazel has been invited to be a stand-in for Marguerite. While Madelbos is distracted, Lucien Beaumont and Kyrill Von Priest climb over the wall… they obviously don’t belong either. Madelbos finds Hazel a pair of shoes from Marguerite’s extensive collection of props, clothes and opera artifacts. While Hazel waits to find out if she’s going to be singing, she meets Lucien and Kyrill… a journalist and an artist/poet… a couple of anarchists, really. It’s almost time for the performance, but Marguerite’s husband Georges is stuck on the road in the middle of nowhere with steam coming from the hood of his car. She doesn’t want to start without him, so it’s a good thing Hazel is here.
After Hazel finishes, Marguerite is talked into starting without George. She’s the primary patron of the Orphans of France charity, after all, and the guests are here for her. Marguerite graciously compliments Hazel… “I know how trick the high notes can be.” Hazel was indeed excellent, but now we anticipate an aria from “The Great Marguerite.” From the first note… if you can call it that… the off-key screech is so awful that it can bring tears to your eyes. And the interesting thing is that she performs with such enthusiasm and sincerity! There are some knowing glances around the room, but mostly the audience expresses great appreciation. Before the evening is over Madelbos takes a group photo. (Madelbos isn’t just the bouncer… he functions as a butler, social secretary, photographer… and gosh… what’s next?) Lucien’s review the next day is glowing. Madelbos hides the papers with bad reviews. George tries to tamp down her enthusiasm, but the room full of white flowers (her favorite color) are a loud Bravo!
As the story unfolds, we learn why Marguerite sings, why her husband reluctantly supports her and what everyone else in Marguerite’s orbit hopes to gain. They say life can be stranger than fiction… and this truly bizarre story is actually based on the life of an American socialite, Francis Foster Jenkins, who sang (badly) in the 1930s and 40s. It would be easy to dismiss Marguerite and her story as absurd, but underneath, it’s a touching study of human nature. Like most who come to know her, we start out thinking Marguerite is bizarre. But as we get to know her, our views become more nuanced. Much hinges on the excellent performance of Catherine Frot as Marguerite and the excellent script and direction both by Xavier Giannoli. This would have been an easy film to mess up, but it’s pitch perfect, even though you want to run and hide every time Marguerite takes the stage. It’s also worth pointing out that this period film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. While there are many who consider Marguerite to be ridiculous, one of her fans sums it up… “The sublime and the ridiculous are never that far apart. No?”
4 popped kernels
A rich socialite believes she’s an accomplished opera singer, but she isn’t.
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Art House
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: Bad opera singer
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought Provoking