Marianne Faithfull, fleur d’ame @ Le FIFA

Actress and director Sandrine Bonnaire (Monsieur Hire, Sans Toit Ni Loi) goes about making a documentary about a very intriguing member of the British Invasion. It is a rather endearing and sensitive portrayal of singer/actress Marianne Faithfull. A woman whose career has been riddled with scandal and the effects of a drug addiction. Bonnaire does her subject a service by showing the total human being and not just the troubled side.

In 1964 life changed for Brit Marianne Faithfull. At the age of 17, she released a song called “As Tears Go By”, which had been written for her by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Just before she had been “discovered” by Andrew Loog Oldham, the manager of the Rolling Stones, at a party thrown by the Rolling Stones. The song was a huge hit and she became the female face of the British Invasion. She also took roles in films like The Girl on a Motorcycle and Hamlet. A huge star. Married young in 1965 to John Dunbar and quickly gave birth to her son, Nicholas. Tabloids had fun with the fact that the marriage did not last long and the next year she moved on with another man.

From 1966 until 1970 she was in a relationship with Mick Jagger. They were “the” couple of Swinging London, as it was called at the time. A life filled with music and parties. Soon drugs became an issue. She suffered a miscarriage and was addicted to cocaine. After an arrest in which she was found by police just wearing a bear skin rug her reputation began to fall apart. Faithfull was seen as an easy woman and a bad mother. Cocaine addiction soon became a raging heroine addiction coupled with anorexia.

In 1970 she and Jagger broke up, she was often homeless, lost custody of her son, and shortly after that attempted suicide. Her career was in tatters. During the time she was with Jagger she did not release any music as she says she did not want to compete with him. During the early 70s she was either living on the streets or in a rehab program. Due to laryngitis and drugs her voice was damaged. It was now lower and often cracked. Scandal followed her around.

Her comeback began in 1979 with the release of the critically acclaimed album, Broken English. As the next decade began she released another album and moved to New York City. Her addiction still raged on and brought about some injuries or health issues. A broken jaw due to a fall down stairs. Her heart stopped. Through all this she continued to perform and record reinventing herself as a blues and jazz singer. As she did not have any savings due to the decades of drug abuse, she continues working to this day.

What an interesting and never dull subject! Admittedly, though I know the name, I did not really know that much about Marianne Faithfull before watching this. Through this documentary I feel like I come away with a pretty good understanding of the woman and the artist. The interviews with Faithfull are really the heart of the film. Even her croaking voice tells the tale of her life. Though Bonnaire is gentle with her, she is insistent with her with the aim of getting to the heart of her story. Sometimes much to the chagrin of the subject. The interviews with Faithfull are surrounded by clips from her films, old footage and a more recent concert performance which she had to do with the aide of a cane. We look beyond the icon to the sensibilities and humour that allowed her to survive all that has happened to her.


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