Sunday, March 6, 2016

The splendid Catherine Frot in Xavier Giannoli's not-quite bio-pic, MARGUERITE

On the basis of the three films of his I've so far seen -- The Singer, In the Beginning and now MARGUERITE -- Frenchman Xavier Giannoli (shown below) has become one of my favorite filmmakers. This writer/director takes his ostensible subject, quite different from film to film, and then opens up what can seem like the entire world in the process of telling his particular and always absorbing stories.

His films are rich in the most wonderful of ways: They make you stop and consider so many things, and they never smash home their moral. In fact, it's rather difficult to spot villains in his movies, so full are they with folk just trying to make their way along. Yet what Giannoli repeatedly uncovers about us humans and our often odd behavior makes us seem at once amazing and mysterious. This was true of In the Beginning, which, like The Singer, I caught at past Rendez-vous With French Cinema outings (they were never released theatrically here in the USA), and it proves more so, and more subtly, with Marguerite.

If you've heard of the almost-famous Florence Foster Jenkinsshe of the miraculously off-key voice, you'll have a good idea of the fictionalized title character -- played by the hugely undersung on these shores, at least, Catherine Frot (shown above and below) -- on whom the film is very loosely based. (That fine director Stephen Frears will have a movie coming out later this year about Ms Jenkins starring Meryl Streep.)

M. Giannoli's movie uses Marguerite -- her character and her voice -- to explore our love: of music, opera, art, life and each other. In the process, we come upon everything from politics and economics to Dadaism and medical science; philosophy and Colonialism to the multitude of ways we humans can use and abuse each other (often simultaneously).

Marguerite is being billed as something of a comedy, over here in the USA, at least, and indeed there is enormous humor in hearing the incredible caterwauling of this voice from hell. Yet the film is so rich in odd incident and strange, provocative and mysterious characters whom we come to care about more than we would expect that, by its very moving finale, it has opened up even greater mysteries.

Giannoli's accomplishment here is immense, but so quietly achieved that I suspect that it will not be fully appreciated -- for awhile, at least. Classics generally take their time to cement. One thing that should register immediately is how amazing Ms Frot is (as always). Last seen as that no-nonsense, hands-on chef for François Mitterrand in Haute Cuisine, the actress here transforms herself into a wealthy woman who wants desperately to sing, as well as have her husband care about her. (The actress won the French César award last week for this performance,)

To this end she is abetted by a host of folk who need things of her -- from her philandering husband (André Marcon, two photos above) and the professional music group she has funded to an on-the-skids opera star (Michel Fau, below) who now must double as Marguerite's teacher, a young journalist with a career to jump-start, and a pretty, upcoming singer with a lovely voice (Christa Théret, above, center left).

Perhaps the most mysterious character is Marguerite's accompanist, chauffeur and jack-of-all-trades (Denis Mpunga, at piano below) who may possibly be the most abusive of all and yet has provided our heroine with much that she has needed for years now.

As I say, this movie is full of mysteries, which you will probably savor and explore for a long time to come. Certainly the film is worth more than one viewing. I can't wait until it's available on Blu-ray, where the (also award-winning) costumes, production design and sound will set your eyes and ears ablaze.

From Cohen Media Group and running 129 minutes, Marguerite opens this Friday, March 11, in New York City at the Paris Theater and Angelika Film Center and in Los Angeles at The Landmark. Over the coming weeks it will open all across the country. Here in Southern Florida look for it on April 1 in Miami at the Tower Theater, in Boca Raton at the Regal Shadowood, and at the Movies of Delray and the Movies of Lake Worth. Click here to view all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters shown.

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