My Afternoons With Margueritte
Directed by Jean Becker. Starring Gérard Depardieu, Gisèle Casadesus, Sophie Guillemin, Maurane, Françcois-Xavier Demaison, Patrick Bouchitey, Jean-François Stévenin, Claire Maurier, Florian Yven. (2011, NR, 82 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 4, 2011
There’s no reason this cliché-ridden French drama should work, but it does, and there’s the beauty of it. Attribute this to the performances and the restraint of filmmaker Jean Becker (of the veteran moviemaking family), who also had a hand in adapting the screenplay from a book by Marie-Sabine Roger. The film validates friendship between the generations and the joys of reading, and at 82 minutes, has little time to get lost in the muck.
Gérard Depardieu is Germain Chazes, a fat, middle-aged workman in near-perpetual dungaree overalls. Unloved by his mother (Claire Maurier), Germain still lives in a trailer on her property while she grows increasingly spiteful and feeble. Flashbacks to his childhood show young Germain (Yven) mocked as a dullard by his teachers and classmates, and treated as an unwanted oaf by his reluctant mother. He has grown to believe everyone’s opinion of him and is now a big, dumb lug who is still belittled by the people he calls his friends. Yet he has a good heart and his girlfriend Annette (Sophie Guillemin) loves him deeply.
Then 95-year-old Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus) enters his life via a shared park bench where they both commune with the pigeons. Refined, worldly, and having a love of books, Margueritte treats Marcel with respect and gradually coaxes depths from her companion that he never knew he possessed. Margueritte becomes Marcel’s portal to the world of reading and ideas, along with their implied new horizons. It’s an unconventional friendship. Just the very sight of them screams “opposites”: Were bulky Marcel to so much as put an arm around Margueritte’s shoulder, the fragile, tiny woman looks as though she would break. Yet they are the best of friends. And that’s about it. Literature and kindness save one more soul and survive to pay the favor forward one more day.