I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on film and TV. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking a closer look at the Oscar nominees and the LGBTQIA+ representation in them: the good, the bad, and what it means for mainstream LGBTQIA+ visibility. So far, I’ve covered “Green Book,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “The Favourite,” all feature films with a lot of press and box office dollars behind them. But what about independent films, who didn’t have the luxury of a two hour runtime or a big press junket? Marianne Farley’s “Marguerite,” the only nominated live-action short directed by a woman (and one of two history-making selections from Quebec, which has never brought a live-action short to the Oscars before), managed to tell a queer-centric story with peaceful grace in under 20 minutes. Here’s why people have been making such a fuss over “Marguerite.”
(Sidenote: I didn’t forget “Can You Ever Forgive Me,” but the Oscars ceremony snuck up on me quicker than expected. Sorry, Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant.)
“Marguerite’s” Quietly Moving Storyline
We meet Marguerite (Béatrice Picard), an elderly woman with ever-mounting health issues. Her nurse, Rachel (Sandrine Bisson), quickly becomes both her caretaker and her friend, as their close contact fosters a friendship that grows with every scene. Rachel helps Marguerite in the most intimate ways–bathing her, dressing her and massaging her aching feet– and the elderly woman, whose loneliness permeates her existence, is warmed by the company and physical touch.
When Marguerite learns of Rachel’s girlfriend, Rosalie, their openness sparks a longing for what the young couple can have in the modern world. She seems to contemplate her life in toto, working up the courage to talk about something she can’t bring herself to speak of. In the end, we discover that Marguerite is a lesbian herself, who was never able to live openly like Rachel and Rosalie. While she lived a good, long life, she was never able to publicly express her love for her past girlfriend, Cécile. Moved by Marguerite’s story and talk of her past lover, Rachel kisses and holds Marguerite in her sickbed, comforting Marguerite in her final hours with the feminine touch she’d so sorely missed.
Addressing Changing Circumstances for Queer Women, Without Succumbing To Stereotypes
Writer/director Farley told PGN she “really wanted [Marguerite] to be subtle…where you see into the character’s psyche and you aren’t fed all the exposition.” This is “Marguerite’s” biggest draw. While us viewers sit on tenterhooks, waiting for drama as Rachel comes out to Marguerite, Marguerite’s secret smile and interest turns the expected event (some awful, outdated insult about queer folx) on its head. Then the story’s conflict (whether or not Marguerite will tell her life’s big secret) is kept to hints and contemplation, as are the specifics of the life Marguerite did live. The viewer does most of the work in reading between the lines of the film, creating a bigger conversation about the struggles queer people of times past had to deal with, juxtaposed against a changing, more tolerant world.
One of my personal favorite moments from the film is perhaps the most open to interpretation. Marguerite, usually seen looking out the window or stirring a tepid cup of tea, grows animated after Rachel’s revelation, and takes out an old photo album. She smiles and laughs while looking through the story of her life, though she angrily shuts the album upon seeing a wedding photo of a straight couple. We are left wondering who the woman was (she or Cécile), and which one chose a straight relationship to survive the times. But nobody buries any gays, or cries over a life unfulfilled, because Marguerite did live her life. It just wasn’t as full as it might have been, had she been born in Rachel’s time.
Seeking Connection, No Matter One’s Age
“Marguerite’s” other crowning achievement is its gentle, quiet way of unfolding, balancing sadness with empathy and kindness. The film’s clear focus on sensuality– of caring touch, not lust or romantic love– allows every viewer to connect with Marguerite and Rachel. We understand loneliness, the importance of a hand to hold when one’s life draws to a close. We rarely talk about older queer women, with most of Hollywood tossing out lesbians when they’re not young, hot, and writhing in bed together. “Marguerite” shines a spotlight on the older LGBTQIA+ community and finds a common thread to pull at our heartstrings. I have no idea if Farley, Picard or Bisson are queer themselves, but even without a queer person in front of or behind the camera, “Marguerite” portrays the queer community with nuance and a brand of earnest kindness I can’t help but love.
“Marguerite” is a beautiful short that pays homage to queer women, young and old, in a sensual, non-sexualized story. Without resorting to depressing tropes or loud, violent imagery, Farley created a film that honors queer women past and present and acknowledges the power of kind and gentle, everyday intimacy. Without being preachy or invalidating the life Marguerite did find for herself, “Marguerite” also acknowledges the stigmas older queer women faced that have lessened for the modern queer. Overall, “Marguerite” is a great example of LGBTQIA+ storytelling, and I’ll be rooting for it during the Oscars ceremony.
LGBTQIA+ Representation On Sunday: The Bigger Picture
While we do have a small but strong collection of LGBTQIA+ stories to root for on Sunday, it would be wrong to say that LGBTQIA+ representation in Hollywood is growing for everyone in our community. While the 2019 Oscar season has shown big love to gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters, trans folx have been notably absent from the festivities. Sure, we had Daniela Vega in “A Fantastic Woman” last year, and it was wonderful; but one film starring one trans actress does not everlasting representation make.
I enjoyed seeing queer stories like “The Favourite” rise to the top, but we need to do more to elevate trans and non-binary stories across the board, especially in light of the U.S. political climate. The idea of equal LGBTQIA+ representation is, above all, a fight for our community to be seen and treated fairly, and while this year’s LGBTQIA+ nominees are strong, quite a few of the colors in our rainbow have been left behind.
What did you think of “Marguerite”? Let me know in the comments below!