In this day and age, we are swimming in reality television shows that feed off of talent competitions of all shapes and sizes. Look no further than the likes of “Top Chef,” “The Voice,” “American Ninja Warrior,” and “American Idol.” People watch those shows to be wowed by seemingly ordinary people showing off exceptional skills. There is also a section of viewers among them that “hate-watch” those shows for the failures. In some cases, the collective attention give to the failures can outweigh the successes.
Do we all remember the infamy of William Hung from 2004? You should. Take William Hung, turn back the clock 80 years, and, here’s the kicker, give him a judging audience that won’t tell him he’s bad. If you can do that, you can step into the foreign film “Marguerite” from French director Xavier Giannoli playing now at the Landmark Theater locations in Lincoln Park and Highland Park. Divided into five chapters, “Marguerite” is an immersive character study into a would-be singer’s obsession with talent.
Our titular figure in the Parisian France of 1920 is the Baroness Marguerite Dumont, played by the indomitable Catherine Frot. A well-to-do audience of high society has gathered to hear operatic vocal and instrumental performances coordinated by The Amadeus Club at Marguerite’s lavish home. Among the performers is Hazel (Christa Theret), a striking young talent that catches the ears and eyes of a music critic Lucien Beaumont (Sylvain Dieuaide) and his artist/activist friend Kyril Von Priest (Aubert Fenoy). While Hazel impresses all, it is the renowned and reclusive Marguerite who is the proverbial headliner.
As she assumes center stage to much fanfare and bated breath, all in attendance witness the truth behind her rumored legendary status. The woman is a terrible singer. Off-key in the shrill direction and stubbornly behind the cadence of the song, Marguerite wails to the shocked amazement of the audience. People clap from kindness to appease her wealth and status because no one has the heart or disrespect to tell her she is bad.
Soon enough, we learn how such truth is carefully withheld from Marguerite. It all starts with her ashamed and philandering husband Georges Dumont (Andre Marcon). He and the estate’s trusty butler, Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), hide the poor reviews in the newspapers and have become exhausted feeding the lie surrounding her artistic drive for years. As Lucein and Kyril embrace Marguerite’s blind spirit and promote her, Georges fears she is being fleeced and is unable to allow her unbecoming singing to be exposed further. He enlists an unemployed opera singer, Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau), to be her voice coach. Georges the hopes that either Marguerite finally gets better or Pezzini’s opinion can break the truth to her and end the fantasy.
One of the largest pulls of fascination while watching this film is deciphering the intentions of the characters circulating around Marguerite. Every minor character has a hand in the shared lying to varying degrees. Discovering their motives towards her success or failure is played out with patience in spurts of both light comedy and flagrant drama. The other attraction is watching Catherine Frot create this sympathetic and myopic character. She won the Cesar Award for Best Actress for “Marguerite,” the European equivalent of the Oscars. Her dramatic behavior to weave moments of nuanced quiet fancy with heavy and fearless expression is brilliant.
Filled with splendid musical talent, stirring performances, and lovely period detail, Giannoli’s film can both seize and lose your attention. “Marguerite” has a path that acquires your interest, yet the fleeting hopes have questionable fulfillment. There is an unmistakable balance between elation and apathy within the movie and in our view as an audience. The most ideal peak for the film arrives too soon and is diminished by the closing chapter. Consider “Marguerite” a highly artful experience parallel to the instinctive inability to take your eyes off of a impending trainwreck. Part of you roots for it and the other half roots against it.
Lesson #1: Husbands, tell the truth the first time— Be honest with your spouse or be prepared to carry on a lie to the grave with all of the attached guilt and mess that goes accordingly. Women tell us immediately and steadfastly when we are wrong. Do the same and just tell her. Save yourself from a lifetime of perpetuating a lie that will only grow worse.
Lesson #2: We all think we are the best at something in our own minds— This writer firmly believes that we all have a Marguerite-like item of delusional talent that we hold confidently dear, bulletproof to any outside criticism. Whether that’s believing you cook the best grilled cheese sandwich in the world or feeling your are the greatest karaoke singer that ever lived, we all have that one self-defined talent.
Lesson #3: The wrong of silencing a passion— There are characters in the film that want to silence Marguerite’s passion as an artist. Singing and the stage is the only invigoration she has. Delusional or not, don’t take such an enjoyment and fulfillment away from someone. Allow them their expression. It may look and sound like a failure to you, but that passion is a part of their identity.