My Afternoons With Margueritte

Continuing 2011’s French-a-palooza (which includes Sarah’s Key, Point Blank, The Hedgehog, The Names of Love and Incendies) is the Gerard Depardieu vehicle My Afternoons With Margueritte. Depardieu’s relentless approaching of a bowling ball in shape notwithstanding, this is a lovely, lovely film.

Depardieu plays Germain, a laborer of no small skill set—he does construction, raises vegetables to sell at market, carves wood—but of very small brain. Well, not really small brain, but (as we see) very horrible childhood. His mother shames him. His schoolteacher humiliates him. And the upshot is that he’s averse to all things reading, and as a result quite ignorant indeed.

He takes his lunch in the park, where he names and tallies the pigeons, and one day, as he’s counting, an old lady, Margueritte, already sitting there says “There are nineteen.” They discuss the pigeons for a while, and Margueritte says that he reminds her of a passage from The Plague, which she’s reading. She takes it out and reads the passage and the somewhat thick-headed Germain is entranced.

She offers him the book, but he demurs, is logophobia still intact. So, instead, she reads to him from the book over the next ten days in the park, and a friendship is born.

The story takes us through Germain’s life in flashbacks, and through this new future where he becomes a different person to his friends—an educated man, almost, though still disastrously thick sometimes.

Depardieu’s performance is truly wonderful in the subtleness of the transformation.Gisele Casadesus, who was in both Sarah’s Key and The Hedgehog, has a sweet and generous turn as the motherly Margueritte (two “T"s for her father didn’t know how to spell it). Sophie Guillemin is the ridiculously gorgeous bus driver and girlfriend to Germain who somehow makes that work without being creepy. Claire Maurier (whom I last saw in Amelie) plays Germain’s complex and, sometimes, frankly insane mother.

If you have any affinity for reading or the printed word, you’ll probably be charmed by this film. The Boy, who’s not a big reader—and who maintains his loathing for the French despite all the movies (heh)—really enjoyed it.

I loved it, of course, and find it a shame that this will probably fall into the forgotten dust heap of history, missing an audience that would love it greatly.

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