You’d be excused for heading into Faithfull with some apprehension. It’s quite a task to document the extraordinary life of Marianne Faithfull in 60 minutes, which makes the end result all the more impressive. Sandrine Bonnaire manages to capture a touching tribute to the musical icon through her own reminisces.
The story of Marianne Faithfull’s life is presented through interviews conducted by Bonnaire and expertly selected archive footage which are neatly paired throughout. What’s immediately striking is the sheer longevity of Faithfull – both as an artist and as a person – by the way she handles her interviews. The now 70 year old has the same calm, patient demeanour as the teenager shown in older clips.
One of the most interesting things here is the way Faithfull is juxtaposed with her younger self. In an old TV interview taken just after she separated from her first husband, the young star speaks of her inability to love; “I just don’t think I can, I don’t know why”. At the film’s conclusion we learn that Love is now the most important thing to her; “I don’t mean romantic love,” she says, “I mean real Love.” It’s hard to know what exactly she is referring to, but the differences are clear, she’s focused on spending her time with family now. “I love my fans” she says “but I can’t do everything for them.” It’s obvious that Bonnaire tortured herself trawling through archive footage, and the reward is an incredibly acute portrait of a woman’s change in ethos as she ages.
Perhaps the most exceptional quality of Bonnaire’s filmmaking is her absolute dedication to creating a portrait of the person, rather than just the story of her career. She constantly seeks to create rare and intimate moments in the interviews to expose the ‘real’ Marianne Faithfull. This is apparent from her very first question; “How do you feel about this film?” As a result, Faithfull is constantly aware of the fact she’s in a movie, leading to a much more reserved version of herself to the one we see in archive footage.
In one interview (which takes place in the back of a car) Faithfull starts to appear embarrassed at her own words – “I’m not like this, this isn’t me” – before asking for the camera to be turned off. In an incredible show of nerve Bonnaire refuses multiple times, lingering on a close up of her subject. These brief seconds reveal a genuine version of Marianne Faithfull, argumentative and stubborn, yes, but also proud. In a scene that was never intended, Bonnaire captures possibly the most vital moment of the film. Indeed, its these tiny snapshots that expose Faithfull’s tenderness and thus increase the film’s appeal.
The hour-long time cap ultimately restricts the narrative somewhat, but not enough to feel short changed at the end. A large chunk of time is dedicated to her relationship with Mick Jagger, naturally, but interesting periods like her two-year long homelessness is skipped over rather quickly. Considering the subject’s rich history, some things can’t be covered. Luckily, Bonnaire realises this and, in her own words, focuses on the astonishing personality in front of her instead of “just a story about her career.”
Faithfull is showing on Friday 6th October at Curzon Mayfair. Visit bfi.org.uk/lff for more information.