Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Florence Foster Jenkins was an aspiring opera singer in the early 1900s who wanted to succeed in the eyes of critics at all costs, even though she couldn't carry a tune. She wanted to study music abroad but her father refused. After an ill-fated marriage to a doctor, Jenkins met an actor and was engaged in a common law marriage for the rest of her life. Jenkins founded her own club in New York City and usually only invited her friends to hear her perform.
She was a very, very peculiar voice to hear.
"Marguerite" by director Xavier Giannoli is Jenkins' filmed story told with a change of settings to Paris along with other added liberties. Actor Catherine Frot plays Jenkins, known in this story as Madame Dumont or Marguerite. From the start, she is about to sing but her husband Georges (Andre Marcon) is nowhere to be found. It seems that Georges purposely made his auto malfunction to save his eardrums.
The show must go on however, and Madame Dumont sings alternately like a helium balloon or a strangled cat. Her friends imbibe champagne oblivious to her dreadful rises and tumbles. And Marguerite is oblivious to her voice.
Her off key soarings capture the attention of Dadaist poet Kyrill Von Priest (Aubert Fenoy) who is enraptured by her. Priest, whose character is strikingly similiar to the real-life Dadaist founder Tristan Tzara, (monocle included) sees Marguerite as a Dadaist prophet. Marguerite's high, warbling voice is proof of a society now crazed and upside down. The singer agrees to appear at a small club that expects a performance visit from Charlie Chaplin. Kyrill Priest projects filmed images of war upon her body. He was ahead of his time. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground repeated this act with Nico in the mid 1960s.
Priest begins shouting and struts like a chicken. Fights commence and choas reigns. Dumont is banned from either having or attending music clubs.
Catherine Frot is terrific in her role as the sweet yet personally stubborn singer. Also superb is the theatrical and self important diva known as Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau) who bears a resemblance to the great comedian Zero Mostel. Though this fictionalized biopic is very funny, what comes across most is a heartfelt spirit. In tone, the film feels a close cousin to Hal Ashby's "Being There." There is power in driven naïveté.
This is a portrait of a singularly self-deprecating woman. Dumont carries on performing because she must, truly unconscious of any judgment, catcalls, or backstabbing. Through no fault of her own, she becomes a beacon for the proto-surrealist movement of Dada and such a distinction for this sincerely unnasuming lady seems like just desserts.
Write Ian at email@example.com