By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
With Meryl Streep currently starring as the bizarre historical footnote Florence Foster Jenkins, an opera singer so bad she filled opera houses in the 1940s, it’s time to take a look at Marguerite, a highly successful French film which captured four Caesars, the French equivalent of the Oscar, including Best Actress, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design.
Admittedly, the costumes have a certain “Je ne sais quoi”
Marguerite stars Catherine Frot as Marguerite a countess whose love of the Opera propels her to try it herself, and who’s unable to recognize how truly terrible she is at it, perhaps due to the world at large telling her how great she is, either through pity or more likely highly ironic enjoyment.
This is the droll French comedy version of the Florence Foster Jenkins story, which has its particular pleasures. Perhaps most amusing is its focus on some proto-hipsters (bohemians, they’d say then) who of course think she’s just the best. Every era’s had them, and they all love the same ironic awfulness, thumbing of noses at convention and institutions, and shaky political grandstanding.
This could be Brooklyn, now.
Catherine Frot adds shades of self-awareness, especially as she gets involved with those proto-hipsters. She’s no purely tragic or purely comical figure. It takes awhile, but it emerges that this is a film not about a bizarre woman but rather about a bizarre, dysfunctional marriage, and here is where the heart and drama of the film are, as her husband Georges (Andre Marcon) begins to realize what his wife really knows and the charade she puts on to assure herself her life is better than it is.
Marguerite takes a turn for the thoroughly melodramatic right when you think this film is going to stick to convention for its denouement- a bold move, perhaps even goofy, inviting of ridicule like Marguerite herself. The ending surprisingly uses this to pull all its threads together into a final shot that is almost transcendent in how thoroughly operatic it is. It’s a strange move, but a strangely successful one.
The entree into this story is via a young, talented opera singer, who almost immediately kind of disappears from the tale. Why begin from her POV of young opera singer at all instead of Marguerite’s? This is just one of several subplots driven by secondary characters that just boost the runtime and have no thematic significance or tie-in to the main plot ultimately. It’s okay to make moves under 120 minutes, France.
But why how can we finish our second bottle of ze Cabernet in only 40 minutes?
Marguerite is a bizarrely affecting tale of a woman completely blinded to her effect on others, and all the more empathetic and likable for it.
Marguerite (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for each opera cut you recognize
Take a Drink: for each of Marguerite’s eccentricities
Take a Drink: whenever somebody tells Marguerite how good she is
Take a Drink: for each chapter
Take a Drink: for each shot of the cross and tree
Do a Shot: whenever Marguerite sings