Director: Xavier Giannoli
Cast: Catherine Frot, André Marcon, Christa Théret, Michel Fau
Watch Marguerite online in the UK: Amazon Prime / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Curzon Home Cinema / Google Play / Sky Store
Every so often, you’ll have a case where two Hollywood films with near enough identical set-ups end up being released within a year of each other, sometimes even within the same season. 1998 alone saw two major cases, with Deep Impact and Armageddon facing off in the summer, and Antz and A Bug’s Life battling towards the end of the year.
A stranger occurrence of late, though, has been a trend of sorts where a high-profile foreign language release bares some resemblance to a notable English-language title coming out around the same time. Danish thriller A Hijacking was inevitably compared to Captain Phillips because of the shared plot point of Somali pirates, while some critics last summer couldn’t help but compare Zac Efron-starring DJ drama We Are Your Friends to Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden (released a month earlier), solely because the films both concern electronic music (and not even the same kind of electronic music). However, with 2016’s most notable example, Marguerite, comparisons actually seem pretty valid: Xavier Giannoli’s French film is loosely inspired by the life of American socialite and amateur operatic soprano Florence Foster Jenkins, who has also had the official English-language biopic treatment this year, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Meryl Streep.
Moving the Jenkins story to 1920s Paris, Giannoli’s film follows Marguerite Dumont (Frot), a wealthy woman who adores music and the opera. She believes she has a beautiful voice and loves to sing for her fellow socialite crowd, who help fuel fantasies of her non-existent talent with a conspiracy of silence. Further dreams of success are fuelled by the interest of outside parties, who gatecrash one of her headlining music club performances in the film’s opening, among them an anarchist reporter, whose paper publishes a double-edged rave review of her performance that Marguerite opts to take at face value. And so this becomes a tale of both a woman compelled to practice a pursuit well beyond the (all too evident) limits of her skills, as well as those seeking to gain from her profile and wealth through either outright manipulation or a lack of courage to tell her the truth; a sort of singing spin on The Emperor’s New Clothes.
The freeness offered by Marguerite only taking loose inspiration from real life poses a degree of promise regarding a break from tired biopic formula, but, despite various factors of merit, Giannoli’s film rarely feels that inspired. Among those factors of merit is the enjoyably decadent period production design, as well as Catherine Frot’s sympathetic, César-winning turn and Giannoli’s palpable empathy for her character even amid all the schadenfreude. Yet, despite the considerable effort that went into the production, the actual cumulative result feels less like a weighty exploration of Margeurite and this period and more like lavishness akin to what its wealthy characters do in spending frivolously to support a flimsy cause. All the trappings are there for a rich portrayal, but the gestures behind them feel all too empty and tame, and the pacing all too often lethargic. To draw an unfortunate parallel between the film and its subject, Marguerite has a lot of good intentions but not a lot of right notes.
Marguerite is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I watch Marguerite online on pay-per-view VOD?