Marguerite’s Theorem, what a delightful film!

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At Ecole Normale Supérieure, Jean Pierre Darroussin (Werner) is Ella Rumpf’s crual professor, photo Michael Crotto

“The world of mathematics -and by implication that of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, or ENS – has rarely been shown in films, and even less so with a mathematician heroine. My meeting with Ariane Mézard, one of the few and greatest French female mathematicians, was decisive.  She radiates an impressive strength contained in a great deal of vulnerability, an obvious self-confidence that nevertheless always seems to apologize for being there. I see the same eagerness in Marguerite, a form of selflessness, a passion that mirrors mind.” This is how Anna Novion, the Franco Swedish film director, describes the origins of “Marguerite’s Theorem“, a film which took four years to write and three months for the training of Marguerite as a mathematician. I found it riveting and  very romantic.

Julien Frison from la Comédie Française  plays Lucas with Ella Rumpf who plays Marguerite, phot Michael Crotto

“She was the first person who ever talked to me about mathematics in an artistic way, by conjuring up poetry, imagination, everything that drives me as a filmmaker. While she was telling me about her passion, she was also telling me about mine. Gilles Deleuze quite rightly said that a scientist invents and creates as much as an artist… Mathematicians might spend their whole lives trying to solve a problem with no assurance that they ever will. Filmmakers also risk seeing their projects break down at any moment. It is not unlike an act of faith. Being a mathematician is like joining a religious order” continues Anna Novion.  And this is how Marguerite is perceived here. The film is extremely funny at times and the five actors are exceptional including Julien Frison, the Belgian comedian from la Comédie Française and  the superb dancer Sonia Bonny, who ends up becoming Marguerite’s roommate.

After three months of training, Ella Rumpf became an expert at writing formulas on the blackboard

“Professor Werner is a power figure who prevents Marguerite from completely fulfilling her potential. Since the day she entered the ENS, she has seen him as a protector and in her view, their relationship involves feelings, whereas he only wants to put some distance between them. She wants him to like her, like in a daughter-father relationship.” Marguerite hardly knew her father and was raised by a mother who taught maths in secondary school. She was so talented as a child that she helped her correct her pupils copies.

Marguerite makes a living winning at Mah-jong, photo Michael Crotto

I really enjoyed this film which is based on a failure and moves toward redemption both professionally and affectively. All the actors are excellent including Clotilde Courau who plays the graceless part of Marguerite’s mother. The scenes in Chinatown where Marguerite gambles at Mah-jong inn order to pay her rent,  are hilarious and her austerity which slowly moves to humanity is wonderfully analyzed.

The film Marguerite’s theorem is out in France.

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