“Marguerite”: Bad singer, great movie

Marguerite is director Xavier Giannoli’s exquisite film tribute to the strange, wonderful spirit of would be diva Florence Foster Jenkins. The film is a broad, but nuanced, direct but complex study of character, passion and culture.

It contains a rendition of Mozart’s “Queen of the Night aria that will give you nightmares and Bizet’s “Habanera” that hasn’t been sent as far up the scale since the Marx Brothers covered it in “Cocoanuts,” calling it “I Lost My Shirt.” Could Marguerite have been named after the Brothers’ famous foil in “Night at the Opera”?

Catherine Froti’s irrepressible, undeniable Marguerite is as close to the legend of Jenkins as she is to the melodies of Verdi. Marguerite is consumed by opera. But her voice and singing give her audiences consumption. She has no sense of the music, pitch, rhythm or tone. She is incapable of sustaining notes and is not home on any range.

But she does have money. Quite a bit of money. So she is able to construct a music based reality around her 1920s French countryside mansion where her inability to sing well is just another aspect of her divadom.

When Marguerite gives a concert to benefit World War I orphans, the critics proclaim “Marguerite Dumont – a voice for the orphans.” Concert goers tell her how “interesting” her performance was. “People tell me they feel great emotion” after I sing, recounts Marguerite. They do not tell her which emotions! It seems that singers cannot always hear their own voices. Her doting, if mysterious butler Madelbos (Denis Mpunga) maintains this provincial Potemkin Village, screening less favorable reviews and drowning out critical undercurrents with waves of anonymous, tributary flowers.

Financially dependent husband, Georges Dumont (Andre Marcon) painfully absents himself from most concerts, either by dallying with his patient, knowing mistress or intentionally sabatoging his car. Time and again Georges attempts to tell Marguerite the truth about her singing. Time and again he can’t summon the courage.

The plot turns as Marguerite’s ambitions grow. Two young counter cultural Parisian critics encourage her to play before wider audiences and take on a voice instructor – failed tenor Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau). In Pezzini, Marguerite has matched both her passion for singing and her incompetence in performance. But Fou’s wonderfully idiosyncratic Pezzini has an ear for music, as well as an appetite for financial support and young boys. “Open the wee-wee in your throat,” he tells her as grabs her crotch and rolls her on the floor! Pezzini drives Marguerite’s training to exhaustion, while she drives Pezzini’s ears to tears.

Will Pezzini transform Marguerite into a concert success? How will audiences react to flawed performances? Will George and Marguerite find happiness in or out of the concert hall? What are the roles and limits of popular culture?

We only know for sure that the film “Maugerite” winner of four French Cesar Film Awards is a bravura performance, scored with pitch perfect performances!

This article was reposted from the Huffington Post.


Michael Berkowitz
Michael Berkowitz

Michael Berkowitz, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, has been Land Use Planning Consultant to the government of China for many years. He taught Chinese and American History at the college level, worked with Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org. with miners, and was an officer of SEIU.