As two examples of strong, independent women from different generations doing what they want, you could certainly compare Marianne Faithfull to Lady Gaga. But where French actor-director Sandrine Bonnaire’s new documentary on the “British Invasion” star is concerned, the younger star’s Five Foot Two Netflix piece really does fall short in contrast.
For such an alluring life story, this new feature has been captured beautifully by the Vagabond star, who has ambitiously put together a portrait of intimacy and tenderness through a collection of candid interviews, archive television footage and classic photographs in a surprisingly brief narrative.
Despite the inclusion of the already well-known biography of Faithfull’s rise to fame, it is the sincere classic and modern footage of the singer reminiscing that truly shines: we see a woman who genuinely doesn’t care for fame; calling it: ‘a game that I’ve played before, and I don’t like it’.
When probed on the subject during the early days of her career, Faithfull is frank about her job, stating that the music business is built up of controllers taking advantage of people to make money on their behalf.
Refreshingly, when you compare her to fame-hungry types in the same profession, you sense that Faithfull isn’t completely comfortable to take part. She’s never embarrassed, is consistently proud of her work, and admirably forthright; yet she is more satisfied when talking about others instead of herself.
“I work with very good people,” says Marianne. “Maybe I’m just lucky. Maybe I have good taste”.
It is very easy to warm to the Marianne Faithfull we see on the screen. She’s candid, funny, a touch awkward, but always polite, and is very complimentary about the people in her past as well as her modern day bandmates, such as Ed Harcourt, with whom she toured in 2014.
Faithfull is also full of praise and confidence for this film’s director. But when Bonnaire outstays her welcome with more than a lingering shot, she receives the firm instruction to stop recording. It is very clear that this is an artist who likes things done her way and knows when enough is enough; but this is a woman who also prefers not to demonstrate her ugly side for the cameras.
Even though Bonnaire seemingly provokes Faithfull to induce cinematic titbits (as it is, Faithfull gives entertaining value already), she does a wonderfully snappy job of charting her progession as an artist, from her roots as the new darling of swinging London, to her shift to the movie world, acting in films such as The Girl on a Motorcycle.
Faithfull also touches on Marianne’s personal and professional relationship with Mick Jagger (‘Mick shared my brain’), the drugs scandals, and the addiction which left a very small and delicate Faithfull living on the street and suffering from anorexia.
Whereas Gaga’s recent rather self-indulgent documentary left many viewers feeling a little cold, it seems fitting that Faithfull – clocking in at a snappy 62 minutes – leaves us feeling won over, yet still curious about the much wider span of its enigmatic subject’s life.