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aka - Tete En Friche, La
France 2010
Directed by
Jean Becker
82 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

My Afternoons With Margueritte

Synopsis: Germain (Gerard Depardieu) is an overweight, amiable, kind man who never did well at school and was victimised in many ways. He has low self-esteem, not a little thanks to his now-alcoholic mother (Claire Maurier) who seems never to have loved him, and friends who often put him down and make him feel ignorant.  One day on a park bench he meets 95-year-old Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus). There is an instant rapport between them, and the old lady ends up reading to Germain, and awakening in him a love of literature and words.

Like his 2007 film Conversations With My Gardener (2007), My Afternoons With Margueritte will reward those whose hearts are open to humour and warmth.  Probably more so viewers with a love of books but even without that, one can’t help but enjoy what is truly a memorable film friendship.

Germain and Margueritte meet as both are watching pigeons and we soon learn that there is more to him than appearances indicate as he recognises each bird, to which he has given a name. As they share the park bench it becomes apparent that she is an educated and well-read lady, and despite her own physical bird-like frailty, she is independent. The pair discover neither has children and Germain confesses to his mother never loving him, and how he sees himself as ignorant, due to his reading problems. Despite that she reads aloud to him from Camus’ La Peste (The Plague) and his fertile imagination brims over with reconstructing the scenes in his head. He is hooked, and every day the old lady reads to him and his desire to learn grows.

Scenes are all short and sharp – we jump between the park bench meetings, Germain at the bistro where he drinks with his friends, at home in his garden with its cornucopia of wondrous veggies which his mother tries to destroy and at home with his much younger girlfriend, local busdriver Annette played by Sophie Guillemin (only in the film world do overweight aging blokes manage to score young and lovely girlfriends!) We are also privy to pointed flashbacks of his youth as a fat boy being constantly villified by his mother and his mocking schoolteacher and classmates.

This is possibly one of Depardieu’s most memorable performances in ages. He is one of France’s iconic actors, but I haven’t seen him as someone so utterly likeable, soft and vulnerable as his Germain. One’s heart almost breaks as he tells Margueritte “Some people are mistakes”, but the many kindnesses he shows to others prove him to be in fact a rather rare human being. He seems always positive and upbeat, despite his past, and although he may not have the formal education he manages to express deep and honest thoughts, and he proves a fast learner under Margueritte’s gentle tutelage. As for the 95-year old Casadesus (acting since 1934!), she is a wonder to behold, and it is inspiring to see a film that actually gives a positive message about growing old.

No doubt some would say the resolution of this film is a touch predictable and even schmaltzy, but I found myself enchanted and wishing there were more films of this nature seen by more people. Stories like this can only make the world a better place!




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