MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE
Germain (Gerard Depardieu), fifty and barely literate after an incomplete education, lives in a caravan in his mother's (Claire Maurier) back garden, their relationship strained ever since he was born. In his breaks from work as a labourer, he has named all the 19 pigeons who come and peck regularly by the stone bench in the small public garden of a French provincial town. When Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus), an eloquent and elegant 95 year old lady passionate about reading, begins a casual conversation with him, a friendship begins. She gently introduces him to the world of books and he responds. But Margeueritte is going blind.
Review by Louise Keller:
What a lovely way to spend an afternoon. The subject matter is complex yet the execution is simple, which is perhaps what makes this film that explores the unlikely friendship between an erudite elderly woman and an unsophisticated man rather special. There are obvious parallels with director Jean Becker's 2007 film Conversations with My Gardener, in which two men from different backgrounds form a bond, although this encounter between the delicate Margueritte and the unsophisticated Germain hits the mark with greater precision and emotional verve.
Gerard Depardieu's Germain is a bear of a man with street smarts who has been badly scarred from a lifetime deprived of affection. His tumultuous relationship with his mother (Claire Maurier) is still an issue, whereas to the cultured Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus), the notion of a child being considered 'a mistake' rather an 'an object of love' is inconceivable. The starting point from which Germain and Margueritte connect is that neither has children. Their conversation begins in the park with pigeons scampering after crumbs, and quickly skips topics until they start talking about books. But while Germain knows nothing about books and words, he is an avid listener, eagerly visualising scenes from books by Albert Camus. Suddenly the boundaries of his life expand and there is plenty of colour when we meet Germain's colleagues and friends at the local café Chez Francine, nonplussed by his sudden increased vocabulary and different reference points.
There's a gentle and lovely ambiance as the odd couple relationship progresses and I love the scenes in which Germain confides to his extremely attentive cat Jeremy, when he looks up the meanings in the dictionary that Margueritte has given him. The richness of the friendship develops as their needs are interchanged.
Depardieu gives a multi-layered, nuanced performance as the man whose self-image changes dramatically, while Casadesus at 95 years young is perfect as the fragile woman who lives for her books. There's real beauty in this film - from the relationship at its heart, to the atmospheric French provincial setting and melodic score. A delightful encounter for any age, this is a film to savour.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With the best elements of the odd couple and a literary coming of age story, My Afternoons ... is a deceptively simple and charming film. But within the depths of the screenplay are dramatic and universal themes. The most obvious of these is the mother and son relationship in which the young Germain is treated rather badly by his teacher at school and even worse at his broken home, where his mother seems to lack all mothering feelings towards him. Consequently he grows up almost illiterate and feeling worthless.
Although some of the flashback scenes are heavy handed, they establish the deep seated burden he carries. But as the film progresses and we get to know him better, we see that Germain (Gerard Depardieu) is not just a bulky hulk; he has a good heart. He also has a better mind than he has been allowed to show, until he meets Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus) who begins to cultivate that mind.
In her old age, his mother (Claire Maurier) is ratty and belligerent and Germaine finds solace in growing great vegetables. There is a depth of observation here in the smallest details as mother and son exist in constant tension, especially as it contrasts to his emotional development under the influence of Margueritte.
There are some marvellous scenes of local colour at the café that Germain and his friends and colleagues frequent, a typical melting pot of the townsfolk, ranging from the worldly, middle aged owner Francine (Maurane) to the men who play games, drink and joke and observe how Germain changes. (The film was shot in Pons, north of Bordeaux.)
A secondary storyline concerns Germain's affair with the pretty Annette - superbly played by Sophie Guillemin - which delivers a fine resolution that dovetails into the main storyline.
The performances from Depardieu and the frail but pert Casadesus deliver a likeable contrast and if the film is sentimental, it balances the sentiment with some earthy elements derived from the periphery. The film's tone and mood are well controlled and the resolution of the key relationships - between Germain and Margueritte, between Germain and Annette and between Germain and his mother - are all fully satisfying.
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MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE (M)
La tete en friche
CAST: Gerard Depardieu, Gisele Casadesus, Claire Maurier, Maurane, Patrick Bouchitey, Sophie Guillemin
PRODUCER: Louis Becker
DIRECTOR: Jean Becker
SCRIPT: Jean Becker, Jean-Loup Dabadie (book by Marie-Sabine Roger)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Arthur Cloquet
EDITOR: Jacques Witta
MUSIC: Laurent Voulzy
RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 7, 2011