By Tyler Obropta
Marguerite is the perfect example of a movie that’s 30 minutes too long. The momentum of the story and the grace of the character arcs hold steady at the 90-minute mark, and everything after that goes the way of the Hindenburg, which is to say that it all crashes and burns. Whether it’s too lengthy at the beginning, however, is anyone’s guess — anyone’s but mine, at least, because an older woman in the theater lobby asked me if I’d watch her things while she used the lavatory, resulting in the loss of the first few minutes.
Marguerite, from director Xavier Giannoli, is a beautiful, energetic film that’s not quite a comedy yet not quite a drama. Though its story is that of an older, wealthy baroness aspiring to be an opera singer, it’s also not quite a musical. Giannoli’s film is less concerned with classification or tonal consistency, sacrificing both to tell an engaging, lively and ultimately tragic story while honestly representing a fascinating, loveable character.
The étourdissant Catherine Frot stars as Marguerite Dumont, a woman in 1920s Paris who is in love with music, especially the opera. She sings at least four hours a day and performs for her friends and the music club she generously donates funds to, all with the ambition that she will one day be able to sing on a stage, in front of an audience who has not yet discovered her talent.
The problem lies in that she has no talent, a secret her husband, servants and music club all strive to keep her from learning. They have little trouble with that, of course, as the baroness is incredibly naïve.
Miss Frot inhabits Lady Dumont with beautiful sincerity and an uplifting spirit, despite a sad, touching sense of loneliness just under her surface. Lady Dumont’s husband, played by André Marcon, undoubtedly loves her (though he’s seeing another woman), but he can’t stand to be embarrassed by her. Thus, he fakes car troubles on the way to each one of her performances, always missing them by just a few minutes.
Though her husband Georges and her singing instructor Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau) are often tempted to blurt out the truth to her, one look at Miss Frot’s hopeful eyes stops them. Nobody can stand to tell her the truth. Miss Frot champions the film, lifting our hearts when Marguerite succeeds and breaking them when she fails.
The energy is kept up by Giannoli’s energetic, wild music choices (all sung by choirs, of course) and brief, fun sequences in the film, such as a Rocky training montage for Lady Dumont and the suspenseful, emotional opera performance from Marguerite that should have ended the film.
It’s a gorgeous character study with some very impressive performances and cinematography and it’s probably for the best if you walk out of the theater after Marguerite’s aforementioned opera performance. Everything after that feels like a car on the turnpike that suddenly decides it might be more fun to drive the same direction on the other side of the road for a half an hour.
And for those like me that were disappointed in the ending, there is another film with the same premise — this time based on a true story instead of just inspired by it — in Florence Foster Jenkins, due out in theaters just in time for awards season. This one stars Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, and hopefully nobody in the lobby will ask me to watch their things before the screening. After all, the first two minutes of Marguerite could have begun with Catherine Frot fighting a velociraptor, and I’d be none the wiser.