Ella Rumpf in "Marguerite's Theorem"
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film Review “Marguerite’s Theorem”: Mathematical drama does not multiply into anything significant

Review “Marguerite’s Theorem”: Mathematical drama does not multiply into anything significant

Ella Rumpf in "Marguerite's Theorem"

The burnout associated with gifted boy syndrome – the overwhelming realization that, after constant childish praise and confirmation, you’re not quite as special as everyone told you you were – has become a self-diagnosed internet disorder of the most annoying people you know, determined to blame their heinous high standards on their parents and teachers. It’s a well-worn cinematic trope, whether it’s through countless “yes, it’s me, you’re probably wondering how I got here” style biopics of real-life geniuses to the Rachel Berry brand of insufferable know-it-alls.

Perhaps that explains how initially disliked Marguerite is, then: a remarkably intelligent math student at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, whose three-year quest to make an earth-shattering breakthrough ends in humiliation, disbelief and childish instinct of retreat into a hole. French-Swedish director Anna Novion (who, prior to the film’s making, was a researcher of Ingmar Bergman, perhaps influencing this film’s intensely academic focus) creates a film that plots its coordinates in familiar territory: that of genius doggedly determined to prove their worth – yet ultimately struggle to do what the best films of this type do, which is to get the audience to care about what their character cares about. That is unless you come to this project fully versed in the notorious unsolvability of Goldbach’s conjecture in the realm of number theory.

We open with the title character being interviewed by a member of the press, who is unimpressed by the lifeless, greasy-haired genie before her and mildly amused by her extravagant choice to show up in her slippers. Marguerite, transplanted from a life in the suburbs with her protective mother to one in Paris big schools thanks to a scholarship, he devoted his entire life to the study of mathematics. But when she is pressured into revealing any other hobbies, she can only make up “walking” and “playing yahtzee”; she is a real sucker for wire-rimmed glasses and noses, she barely socializes with anyone but her cold supervisor of hers and is mocked by her fellow students for her textbook nerdy demeanor.

Her carefully planned life falls off the axis, however, when a roomful of male peers publicly disprove her thesis theorem, leading her to have a defiant crisis and drop out of college and move into the apartment of a cool, albeit freeloading, dancer. called Noah. Now she finally has the opportunity to experience the teenage years she never had: awkward sexual encounters, terrible digs, and a bland retail job at a shoe store to boot. After a savant skill to master the game of Chinese tiles mahjong he gives her new purpose and monetary support, eventually deciding to tentatively rejoin the math game with the dreamy guy who usurped her college supervisory post, falling in love with him (shock) along the way. She points to equations scrawled on the walls and nights ended dozing on A4s half written on her with her boyfriend playing the tuba.

Far from the bare-toothed role with which she had her breakthrough in Julia Ducournau’s “Raw,” Ella Rumpf’s Marguerite is a subdued presence with all the jagged desirability of an isosceles triangle. Disgust with “Marguerite’s Theorem,” however, comes when this autistic-coded character’s awkward blunders are staged for laughs, from her unusual methods of seduction to her heartfelt deadpan banter. That’s before you’re even introduced to Noa, her “hip” roommate who errs dangerously towards the trope where a white protagonist acknowledges his own flaws or gets out of trouble thanks to the help of a black friend. The whole thing, essentially, has exactly the same plot mechanic as “Save the Last Dance,” if Julia Stiles were a mathematician instead of a dancer.

Novion makes a good film, albeit emotionally kneeling by his great thesis that he gave to children I am gifted after all – and while Jacques Girault does a great job of DP, one can’t help but feel weary of the lame math equation images swirling around Marguerite, not unlike a meme we all know and love. Our protagonist evolves into a strangely courageous and ultimately lovable figure who manages to use her passion to bring “order to infinity”, but the whole thing seems undermined when the film suggests that she needs a male love interest to help her find herself.

It’s a story that fixes its outcome on a well-worn formula, a film where you can predict every subsequent scene, development, and contention with the precision of Pythagorean theorem. Rumpf is solid and the story isn’t lagging behind, per se; but given the richness of the Cannes lineup this year and the proliferation of originality coming from French directorial talent this year, “Margaret’s Theorem” is doomed to fade like chalk on a blackboard.

Grade: C+

“Marguerite’s Theorem” premiered in special screenings at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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