Friday, April 1, 2016

Movie Review: Marguerite Shrieks of Magnificence

By Lily Guerrero

Those well acquainted with the story of Florence Foster Jenkins should run to their nearest movie theatre to catch Catherine Frot as the charming Baroness Marguerite Dumont. Writer and director Xavier Giannoli expertly creates a world based on Jenkins’ life in which the viewer laughs, cries, and ultimately leaves feeling emotionally connected to the wealthy socialite.

We begin at Baroness Dumont’s estate outside of Paris during the fall of 1920. The Amadeus Club is sponsoring a party and Marguerite is set to perform. Here we meet a budding mezzo-soprano, Hazel (Christa Theret), and the two young party crashers Lucien (Sylvain Dieuaide) and Kyrill (Aubert Fenoy) who take a liking to the Baroness. Marguerite slaughters Der Hölle Rache, reminiscent of Florence’s Carnegie Hall concert. Though her friends at the Amadeus Club politely clap for her, Hazel, Lucien, and Kyrill discuss Marguerite’s performance during their car ride home: “You think she knows about her voice?” asks Hazel. The boys reply with smart comebacks such as “Singers can’t hear themselves!” and “[She is] off-key, but sublimely!”

Marguerite receives a glowing review in the newspaper from Lucien. He invites her to perform the Marseillaise at a nightclub but her husband, Georges (André Marcon), tries to impede her from performing there. He is visibly disturbed by Marguerite’s terrible singing voice and wishes to spare them both from humiliation. Their marriage is riddled with trouble, and Georges takes a mistress to ease the pain. A riot ensues after Lucien’s event turns out to be anarchist propaganda, and the Amadeus Club kicks Marguerite out for associating with bad company. Marguerite, however, finds a deeper passion for her singing and proclaims that “the audience brings music to life.” She decides to fund her own debut recital in Paris.

Lucien introduces Marguerite to Pezzini (Michel Fau), who refuses to teach Marguerite in preparation for her recital until her devoted servant Madelbos (Denis Mpunga) blackmails him into service without her knowledge. Their voice lessons are laughter ensuing and reminiscent of many singers’ experiences with crazy vocal techniques and instruction. Many times, there are opportunities for Pezzini to tell her she is terrible, but instead opts to continue instructing her. The night of her big recital, the audience laughs as she destroys Casta diva. Tragedy ensues and Marguerite spends her final days a victim of her own delusion. Those who care about her are faced with the decision to tell her the truth about her voice or continue the lie.

As a viewer, I found myself laughing at Marguerite’s terrible voice at the beginning, but felt my annoyance turn to pity and then later admiration as I watched a woman with a fervent passion for music struggle to convey her love of art with a subpar instrument. The film is witty, touching, and has just enough laughter to keep you from pulling your hair out at Marguerite’s voice.

If you need to satisfy your obsession with classical music’s wackiest socialite turned opera flub, there are two more chances to catch her story: The major motion picture Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep opens April 23, and The Florence Foster Jenkins Story, a documentary starring Joyce DiDonato, is set to be released November 2016.

For more information on the movie, check out the film's website at