Film review: My Afternoons with Margueritte
Through My Afternoons with Margueritte, director Jean Becker had hoped to reaffirm that the written word can enrich minds and transform lives — if its French title La tête en friche (A Fallow Mind) and story denouement are anything to go by. Even when preaching to the converted, however, his fractured sermon does not deliver.
Germain (Gérard Depardieu) is a middle-aged odd-job worker who, on one sun-dappled afternoon, encounters the 95-year-old Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus) in a small public park. He is seriously portly and almost illiterate while she is slight and frail but sharply intellectual. Margueritte begins to read to Germain The Plague by Albert Camus. And so set off their lunchtime rendezvous.
While these literary afternoons dress him with a false erudition that astonish friends — he reels off titles by Camus he has never read — and arm him with an esoteric quote — “we all come back to howl at our mother’s grave” — that he rattles off, they leave Germain largely unaltered. He continues to commit gaffes and the dictionary is scoffed. The only whiff of enrichment comes, perhaps, in his smug rejection of the ” to screw” verb that may be credited to the very young, very attractive and curiously devoted girlfriend, Anette (Sophie Guillemin), who has somehow uncovered the gentle sweetness tucked within those folds of flesh, anyway
If there is one event that has transformed Germain’s life, it will have to be the overdue departure of his biological mother and, more importantly, the unexpected legacy that she leaves behind. For we come to see that these will give him the confidence to love, to live and, dare I say, to install a new mother he has never had.