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Topic: Marianne Faithfull's unlikely heroine Return to archive
12th February 2007 01:14 PM
moy Marianne Faithfull's unlikely heroine
By Joan Dupont
Published: February 12, 2007

PARIS: Marianne Faithfull recalls the good times, singing Dylan, Lennon, Pink Floyd — and, at 17, her first song, "As Tears Go By," by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. "I was there at the beginning of it all, and I can see, I'm going to be there at the end," she said. "The one thing that won't change is the magic of live performance. And if I can make some good films, I'll be very happy."

She can be very happy indeed, for the hard work she put into her role in Sam Garbarski's "Irina Palm" has been rewarded: the movie is in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, which opened last Thursday and runs through Sunday.

"I'm 60, I've come all this way, and now I have a film at Berlin, in which I'm starring. It's wild. In my other world, it was just me; this is a completely different experience."

In Garbarski's movie, Faithfull looks nothing like herself; she is poor Maggie, the downtrodden heroine who takes a job as a sex worker in Soho to pay for a vital operation for her grandson. Maggie simply puts up with her life (a faithless husband, perfidious friends); she is the kind of woman who asks little for herself.

"I am not like Maggie, at all," she said. "And that's the part that interests me — a chance to play somebody that's really not me. But I do have a son and grandsons that I love very much. I know what that feels like."
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The tears gone by, the rocky voice make Faithfull a compelling performer. Her Maggie is a kind of working class heroine, a thickset figure trudging off to a hard job. "Those boots I wore," Faithfull said, "they were heavy." Along with the limp dark hair and the desolate mien, they worked to make Maggie as different as possible from Marianne.

"With Sam, we worked on that together," she said. "I didn't want to overact, but I didn't want to underact either."

At home in her village, Maggie's neighbors speculate on her mysterious new job, and at work, she also provokes malice.

Maggie applies herself so well to her task at "Sexy World" that she kills the competition. She wins the stage name Irina Palm, and the heart of the boss Miki (played by Miki Manojlovic).

"She's able to love somebody — we don't know what will happen to that love but it doesn't matter — and she is loved back. I think that what Miki likes about her is that she's just so different from the other women there."

Manojlovic, known for his roles in Emir Kusturica's movies, makes a good brooding boss, a man with a murky past. "Miki hates to travel, but he came on a train from Serbia to Paris to work with me," she said. "It was an incredible privilege to get rehearsal time with the lead actor."

About her desire to do the movie, Faithfull said, "I knew as soon as I read the script." She added: "I thought it was brilliant. Irina is repressed, but she finds out that she can be good at something. And she makes a journey, that's what I liked. She's got something inside, and we wanted to bring out that tenderness."

Maggie is not helped by a difficult son and daughter-in-law.

"Her love of her grandson gets her through, and love of her son who is not lovable everyday. That's what love is, it's loving people as they actually are and not trying to change them. She has a sense of disappointment, and she's been cowed. She hates working in Sexy World. Then, she actually becomes a star — that's a very odd twist. She sees that there's something that she's good at," even if it is sex work.

To play the part, Faithfull said, she had to stop being herself — "That's the only way I know how to do it — to become the character. And it can make life difficult because you have to come down afterwards. It was a three-month shoot, hard work."

If Faithfull seems to be in another realm, far from show business, it is because of her humility. She has an uncanny sense of wonder about everything that has happened to her — right down to the drugs and disappointments, the losses, and her recent fight with cancer.

The last time she was in Berlin was with Patrice Chιreau's "Intimacy" (2001), "a small part — and we won the Gold Bear. Working with Patrice, I realized how, with the right director, I could do something. He started the idea of writing a part especially for me."

Over the years, she has in fact performed for masters. She appeared in Jean-Luc Godard's "Made in U.S.A.," singing "As Tears Go By." At 21, she played Ophelia in Tony Richardson's "Hamlet" on stage, reprising her role in his film version. She made a famous Pirate Jenny in "Three Penny Opera," and played the Devil in Bob Wilson's production of "The Black Rider. "

Her friends are artists and poets — Allen Ginsberg was one — and musicians. She has performed with Jane Birkin and coached Carla Bruni on her new album in English, "No Promises."

Last year, she played Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette." This Austro-Hungarian realm was getting close to home since Faithfull's mother, Baroness von Sacher-Masoch — a title with resonance — was born in Budapest.

Budapest will be the first stop on Faithfull's upcoming spring music tour. "The songs aren't new, but they feel as if they are," she said.

"Budapest was the center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and that must be why my mother was born there. I've just come into my heritage: my cousin died and I get a title — baroness. It's nothing really. But it's where I'm coming from."

When she asked her mother, later in life, how she was ever allowed to leave home so young, her mother said, "Nobody could have stopped you."

After a pause, Faithfull said: "The fact is, I wanted to get out — I didn't want to stay at school and I didn't want to be at home. Yet, I always felt loved, otherwise I would have been a lot sicker than I am, I guess. But if I hadn't been discovered so young, I would have studied to become a real actress."

An only child, she grew up in Hampstead, London, and now lives in County Waterford, Ireland, and in Paris. "I've changed. You're born with your character, you can't change that. But this last year changed me, because I had this terrible cancer scare, and that frightened me — not enough to stop smoking. But I was able to stop drinking — not completely."

She feels that she works better when she doesn't drink: "I'm more centered and work on a more subtle plane. There's nothing I can do about stage fright. Or people's perception of me. When I was younger it was very hurtful. You come out of home and think that everybody is going to love you, to learn that not everybody likes you — and that it doesn't matter."

When she took drugs, she said, she knew what she wanted: "What I wanted most was anonymity. To be nobody. I didn't want to be alive — it had something to do with disappointment, love gone wrong. I always do that: when bad things happen — not directed to me, but to people I love — I take the blame."
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