Meet 'Marguerite,' A Tone-Deaf Opera Singer Who's Determined To Perform Socialite Marguerite has no idea how bad she is — servants, friends and even other opera singers are too polite to tell her. Critic Bob Mondello says her story is both hilarious and heartbreaking.
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Meet 'Marguerite,' A Tone-Deaf Opera Singer Who's Determined To Perform

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Meet 'Marguerite,' A Tone-Deaf Opera Singer Who's Determined To Perform

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Meet 'Marguerite,' A Tone-Deaf Opera Singer Who's Determined To Perform

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

OK. Now imagine the worst opera singer ever, one who has no sense of pitch or rhythm. Now imagine she is determined to perform in public. This is the premise of an award-winning French film. It's a satire, but it's actually based on a true story. The film is called "Marguerite," and critic Bob Mondello calls it a site for sore ears.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Marguerite is a middle-aged socialite with very little to do. The roaring '20s are roaring elsewhere. Her husband spends all his time with a mistress, and Marguerite sits in her "Downtown Abbey"-style mansion outside Paris surrendering her soul to music.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARGUERITE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESSES: (As characters, singing in foreign language).

MONDELLO: Marguerite adores opera and is wealthy enough that she can sponsor musical recitals for charity with young guest singers like the ones you're hearing now. These are invitation-only affairs where her wealthy friends reward her charitable generosity by being charitable about the way she ends the concerts. She does that with their own, shall we say, unique musical stylings.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARGUERITE")

CATHERINE FROT: (As Marguerite Dumont, singing in foreign language).

MONDELLO: Marguerite is surrounded by servants who applaud, friends who are polite. Her husband usually claims car trouble kept him away. But I hear your question. How could she not know? Wouldn't someone tell her?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARGUERITE")

FROT: (As Marguerite Dumont, singing in foreign language).

MONDELLO: Then, after the concert is over, the young singer you heard before is ushered into Marguerite's presence to say thank you for the cash she got for singing, and you see how this works. Marguerite looks up, vulnerable and sweet, and says, you heard me miss all my high notes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARGUERITE")

FROT: (As Marguerite Dumont, speaking French).

MONDELLO: And the young singer, not wishing to hurt or be impolite says...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARGUERITE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character, speaking French).

MONDELLO: ...No, it sounded fine. Self-knowledge will have to wait. There were, however, some uninvited guests, a young music critic who writes in his paper that Marguerite sang as if she were trying to exorcise an inner demon. Innocently, she takes that as praise - also, an anarchist poet who invites her to perform at a public concert. Marguerite's husband is terrified she'll find out they've all been lying to her. But it's an anarchist performance raided by the police. She kind of fits right in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARGUERITE")

FROT: (As Marguerite Dumont, singing in foreign language).

MONDELLO: Marguerite's story of misplaced confidence is based loosely on that of Florence Foster Jenkins, an American laughingstock whose ghastly public renditions of some of the same music became a best-selling novelty record in the 1950s. It was called "The Glory????" - with four question marks - "Of The Human Voice." Meryl Streep will soon play Jenkins in another movie, but it's hard to imagine anyone improving on the mix of hilarity and heartbreak this transplanted fictional version achieves.

As director Xavier Giannoli pushes his leading lady closer and closer to public humiliation, Catherine Frot's Marguerite becomes every bit as haunting as you expect her to be laughable, walking barefoot in the rain after an evening of opera then squawking in rehearsals like the peacocks that wander her estate's lawn. The more ridiculous Marguerite becomes, the more you want to keep this misguided, innocent, music-besotted creature from being hurt. I'm Bob Mondello.

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