An analysis to accompany SO1E02 by Dr Ann-Marie Fleming
What really breaks Marguerite’s heart? Is it the discovery of her own voice? Or perhaps it is the realisation that those around her have aided her delusion? Could it be the collapse of her perception of self, the very moment she wonders: what am I, what is left of me?
As independent academics, we too have felt that final heartbreak. When the full realisation of the academic market was upon us, did we not too stare into the proverbial gramophone? Gazing into the dark tunnelled abyss to hear nothing but our own echoing voices, voices which sung out-of-tune with the practises of the institutional juggernauts. Then, on hearing the harsh truth of a flooded and hostile academic environment, did we not too collapse and ask: if not this, then what am I? Perhaps, dear reader, you too have met a juncture in which your identity, what you do and how you think, has been called into question. It is not difficult, then, to sympathise with Marguerite.
This short appreciation will focus on the last scene of the film, the sequence in which Marguerite’s doctors, friends, and husband agree to let Marguerite hear her own voice. It will focus on Catherine Frot’s performance, and in particular, on a moment which exceeds expectation in its honest simplicity.
To begin our appreciation of Frot’s performance, let us first turn our attention to the mise-en-scène (everything we see on-screen). Due to the hospital setting, the surroundings are sparsely decorated, and the corridors and halls are large and wide. It is not, therefore, a dense mise-en-scène. Due to this, the audience’s attention is focused on the performer and her relationship to the camera, the physical space in which she occupies, and the situation of the character. In the hall, and as she arrives on the stage, Frot is dwarfed by the enormity of the space and the distance of the camera. Marguerite does not yet know of the humiliation that awaits her, and as a result, Frot sits down with a flair, sending the kimono robe cascading over the chair and encroaching the personal space of the doctor. Marguerite believes she owns the stage, it is her natural home, and thus Frot chooses to act as the flamboyant and confident performer attempting to dominate the surroundings and focus the attention on her.
A blank screen frames both Frot and the gramophone, insulating them from the rest of the empty space on either side of the main frame. It is here that her black fan is swapped for a red one and she is given a bouquet of flowers. A scene within a scene is therefore set, and Frot poses as the camera edges slowly closer to witness the confidence in which she smiles and moves her fan. The fan is integral to this performance, as a prop, Frot uses it to show her excitement and anticipation by moving it quickly for a significant period of time. The film cuts to behind Frot, showing only her and the gramophone in focus. The gramophone, despite sharing the space, appears to dominate her in much the same way as the space of the stage did in a previous shot. The music begins and all the audience see is the back of Frot’s head and the fast movement of the fan. During the start of the song, Frot pauses the waving of the object, but just for a short while. She continues to move the prop for another couple of seconds and then stops completely. The audience have not yet seen Frot’s face, but because of the earlier rhythm and operation of the fan, the audience know that there is a change of emotion. Frot holds this moment, building the anticipation of the audience to see her reaction, impacting the pace of this sequence through the beats of her performance. The technique is successful because it withholds before it reveals, and as a result indicates an interior life of a character which is developed and thoughtful. As the song reaches a particular high note, Frot’s head slowly turns to face the gramophone.
The film cuts to the position of the record. Frot is now dominating the frame due to the position of the camera. She is no longer unaware of the situation, and as such, we are given privy to her minute expressions. Frot’s eyes, previously side-glancing the speaker, move quickly to the record as the source of her disappointment. The down-turned mouth unmoving, she drops her head slightly and the fan falls completely out of view. With one comprehensive and slow blink, Frot stares once more before collapsing.
In this sequence, it is the fan that indicates Marguerite’s emotions. Through Frot’s use of the prop she has moved from excitement, to disbelief, to a deep sadness. The naturalistic and under-stated performance of Catherine Frot communicates the inner consciousness of Marguerite, revealing a deep heartbreak which resonates in the minds of the viewer long after the credits are over.