Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jean Becker
Stars: Gerard Depardieu, Gisele Casadesus, Sophie Guillemin.
My Afternoons With Margueritte is an absolutely charming feel good film from director Jean Becker (Conversations With My Gardener, etc), and it shares a few parallels with that earlier film.
Germain Chazes (Gerard Depardieu) is an illiterate oaf who does odd jobs in his small hometown. He lives in a caravan at the back of his mother’s house. Because of his simple ways, Germain is the butt of jokes with locals with whom he often shares a drink. He is socially awkward, often prone to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. A series of flashbacks shows us how he was bullied at school, and belittled at home by his shrewish mother (Claire Maurier).
Every afternoon Germain visits a local park where he feeds a flock of pigeons, each of which he has individually named. It is there that he meets the feisty, sprightly but lonely old lady Marguerite (played with natural charm by 96-year old Gisele Casadesus) who comes to the park to read books. As she reads to Germain from Camus and other selected works she slowly transforms his life. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship as they bond over a love of words.
She also becomes a mother figure for Germain, whose own mother is a bitter, unforgiving alcoholic. She gives him a dictionary, and he uses it to look up new words. His friends at the local café are a bit bemused by his sudden eloquence and erudition. His long-term girlfriend Annette (Sophie Guillemin) is also amused, but pleasantly surprised, by the obvious changes in Germain’s gruff persona.
Depardieu and Casadesus develop a wonderful and natural chemistry that lifts the simple premise, and they give this unlikely friendship real heart. Depardieu delivers one of his most sympathetic and sensitive performances for a long time and brings real charm to his role as the gentle giant. Casadesus gives a spry and heartfelt performance, and her feisty presence is reminiscent of Ruth Gordon or Gloria Stuart.
Becker’s direction is subtle, and he ensures that the material doesn’t become too saccharine even when it explores some powerful themes. Based on the novel by Marie-Sabine Roger, My Afternoons With Margueritte is a heart-warming film that doesn’t strike a false note in its relatively short running time.