French actress Catherine Frot talks to Dominic Corry about her benchmark role.

All due respect to Meryl Streep, but some stories are simply better suited to a French approach. Such is the case with Marguerite, the acclaimed new film from Xavier Giannoli (Superstar, In The Beginning) which is releasing in New Zealand cinemas on June 16 following a warm reaction earlier this year at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival.

Celebrated French actress Catherine Frot (Haute Cuisine) gives the performance of a lifetime as Marguerite Dumont, a society dame in 1920s Paris whose profound lack of singing ability doesn't stop her from performing concerts for her society friends, who enable her delusions of talent by cheering her all the way.

If that sounds a little familiar, that's because Marguerite was loosely inspired by the life of Florence Foster Jenkins, a rich American heiress who pursued an opera career despite being famously unable to hold a note, and the subject of an American film starring Streep that opened in New Zealand cinemas last month.

That film has yet to be released in France, where Marguerite was extremely well-received, with most of the praise going to the remarkable Frot, who won the French equivalent of the Best Actress Oscar for her performance.


"I'm very curious," Frot tells TimeOut during a sit-down in Paris. "But it won't be the same story so it will be very difficult to draw a comparison between the two films - the only common point is that they both sing out of tune. And Meryl Streep is a great star, so I'll run to see it when it's released."

Streep's film has its fans, but Marguerite is on another level entirely, driven by a lead character who is somehow both utterly honest and entirely inscrutable.

"When I saw the movie I didn't recognise myself," says Frot.

"I was very surprised. Because the film is full of such ambiguity and paradox, we don't know what she wants, what she's looking for, she's just a mystery to all of us in a way. To me, she's a tragic heroine."

Marguerite also uses the set-up for a much richer exploration of how long-standing ideas about art and performance and creativity were drastically evolving in 1920s Paris, a setting vividly evoked on screen.

"To think about Marguerite as somehow locked in her castle, her mansion, and then chosen as a heroine by the Dadaists and the Surrealists, there's some truth in that because it was a moment of great change.

"And Marguerite today would be a reference to all of us if we start wondering if there is a quality in our craft, in what we do. And we are all Marguerites in a way.

"We are full of enthusiasm for our profession and our craft but maybe we don't realise we are all out of tune."

Although Frot was already one of France's top actors, Marguerite marks something of a benchmark for her.

She was so intent on the role she stopped accepting other work in the multi-year build-up to Marguerite, with no guarantee the film would ultimately happen.

"I was very lucky, it was an excellent opportunity.

" In my job you have to take those rare opportunities. You have to somehow look for them, to make them happen in a way."

Playing the role has had a clear impact on Frot.

"It might make it difficult to accept the future roles.

"Being an actor means being a character, working on written text, working with a filmmaker, working with your fellow actors. But it's also something about yourself, your own personal journey.

" It's not only the craft, but it's a journey to discovering yourself."

Who: Actress Catherine Frot

What: French film Marguerite
Where and when: In cinemas from Thursday June 16.