My Afternoons With Margueritte: Film Review

My Afternoons With Margueritte Film Still - H 2011
A gentle French comedy that evokes both compassion and humor.

The coming-of-middle-age comedy from veteran French director Jean Becker could find good word-of-mouth.

An appealing coming-of-middle-age comedy, My Afternoons With Margueritte exhibits a pleasantly light touch even when dealing with some fairly weighty issues. While most likely to attract audiences of a certain age, Margueritte could expand beyond the matinee crowd with supportive word-of-mouth before finding even broader interest on DVD.

Germain (Gérard Depardieu), a 50ish, mild-mannered manchild who’s among the first to acknowledge that he’s a bit of a loser, lives in a trailer on his mother’s property in a provincial French town. Although he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, he gets by with temporary construction jobs, supplemented by selling produce from his home garden, when he’s not enjoying a glass of wine or two with friends at the local bistro.

A chance encounter in the local park with an elderly woman (Gisèle Casadesus) sitting on a bench and reading aloud from a novel begins to shift his perspective on what life has to offer, however. Margueritte (“with two T’s”) is a retiree in her 90s, still brimming with energy and joie de vivre. A shrewd and sympathetic judge of character, she quickly sizes up Germain, correctly concluding that he’s functionally illiterate, so she suggests that he might enjoy having her read to him. Curious, Germain accepts her offer and they’re soon meeting regularly on the same park bench for her abridged rendering of Albert Camus’ The Plague.

Gradually she deduces from Germain’s comments and behavior that despite his carefree demeanor, he had a difficult, rather abused childhood and still endures a stormy relationship with his perpetually wigged-out mother (Claire Maurier). Margueritte’s attentiveness and their shared love of narrative begin to persuade Germain to consider learning to read on his own, a near-paralyzing prospect, even with Margueritte’s encouragement.

Veteran French director Jean Becker, who co-wrote the script based on Marie-Sabine Roger’s novel, steers a gratifying course between empathy and outright sentimentality, with just enough comedy to avoid trite melodrama. Becker’s serviceable style foregrounds the actors’ fine performances rather than letting them wallow in moralism or emtionality.

Depardieu, who previously appeared in Becker’s Elisa (1995), is often more believable as Germain than in many of his more aggrandized roles, lending the character an essential depth of feeling and humor without indulging in mawkishness or parody. Longtime actress Casadesus, who appears to work nearly as often as the ubiquitous Depardieu, elicits good-natured humanity as Margueritte, her precise, clipped diction and very proper manner accentuating her genuine goodwill.

Opens: Sept. 16
Production companies: An ICE 3, KJB Production, StudioCanal, France 3 Cinéma, DD Productions co-production
Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Gisèle Casadesus, Claire Maurier, Francois-Xavier Demaison, Patrick Bouchitey, Jean-François Stévenin
Director: Jean Becker
Screenwriters: Jean Becker, Jean-Loup Dabadie
Producer: Louis Becker
Director of photography: Arthur Cloquet
Music: Laurent Voulzy
Editor: Jacques Witta
No rating, 86 minutes