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Friday, 07 October 2011 00:00

'My Afternoons with Margueritte' Brightens the Day
Written by Diane Carson
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Doing what the French cinema does best, My Afternoons with Margueritte mines the gems found in relationships with friends and chance encounters while reproaching those who criticize others. Witness fiftyish Germain Chazes, caring for his dotty mother who has made clear to Germain from an early age that he is a mistake, incompetent, and will never amount to anything.

Thoroughly internalizing these evaluations, delivered in flashbacks of events, Germain has realized his mother's harsh assessment. Uneducated, he hangs out with pals at the local bistro, does odd jobs and tends his vegetables. Accidentally, into his life comes 95-year-old Margueritte. She loves life and books and pigeons, lives in a nearby old-folks home, and must now cope with macular degeneration.

Gently and sweetly, she coaxes and cajoles Germain to appreciate books as well as to realize his own worth. Through his casual interaction with Margueritte, he discovers a much better self. As happens often in real life, one's improving self-confidence leads to conflicts, here with Germain's mates whom he surprises when he quotes from literature. They now have to reassess and adjust and aren't entirely comfortable doing so—a poignant insight into what happens when friends feel slightly threatened by change, here, Germain's newly intellectual pursuits. Understandably, Germain has trouble along the way as well in amusing ways.

It's the minor shifts in these individuals' lives and attitudes that make this film compelling and rewarding viewing. Sure, it is clichéd, but with Gerard Depardieu as Germain, it's appealing and convincing. Still it's Gisele Casadesus as Margueritte who steals every scene. Never splashy or overbearing, My Afternoons with Margueritte could easily have succumbed to sentimentalism, which it does not. Instead, it appeals to universal humanity.

Adapted from the book by Marie-Sabine Roger, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Jean Becker and Jean-Loup Dabadie, My Afternoons with Margueritte is called La Tete en Friche in France, a more revealing title since "en friche" conveys the idea of uncultivated land or areas, "la tete" one's head. Margueritte develops Germain's intellect and, I felt, my own heart enriched as well. In French with English subtitles. At a Landmark cinema.

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