Gerard Depardieu, Gisele Casadesus, Sophie Guillemin
Jean Becker, Jean-Loup Dabadie, Marie-Sabine Roger
Cohen Media Group (USA)
Winner of the Audience Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival in the category of Foreign Feature, co-writer/director Jean Becker's My Afternoons With Margueritte stars Gerard Depardieu as Germain. Germain lives in a trailer behind his mother's home, despite their relationship being strained for quite some time. He gets by mostly thanks to his abilities as a handyman and gardener, but his has been a lifetime of seemingly being the butt of everyone's jokes and harassment including, quite traumatically, from his own mother.
One day, Germain encounters Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus, Sarah's Key), a 95-year-old woman whose days seem to be filled with feeding the pigeons and watching the soaps while clinging to life despite a body that is not nearly as dependable as her mind. The two spark, not in a truly Harold & Maude sense, but in a way that is so fundamental that you could almost consider them to be soul mates.
Germain is, for the most part, a simple man but he's not nearly as simple as he first appears. Life, beginning with his childhood experiences with his mother, have worn him down and left him with a fractured self-esteem that often dictates his daily choices. He's not a loser, perhaps most obvious due to his having a rather beautiful girlfriend (Sophie Guillemin) who is also a bus driver. She admires him mostly for his kindness, and Margueritte seems to grow to admire him because of that innocence, his capacity for kindness and a sort of childlike awe that brings out from her a maternal side largely left unexpressed in her 95 years.
For her part, Margueritte is an intelligent and well read woman whose non-traditional relationship with this man many years her junior begins because she's an extraordinarily patient and understanding woman who offers what no one in his life has ever offered ... authentic listening.
My Afternoons With Margueritte brings back, on a certain level, memories of one of my favorite french films, La Lectrice (The Reader), about a woman who reads for others. While there's considerably more than simply reading going on in this film, the reading becomes the connector between this man who has lived his life keeping others out but who, in Margueritte, begins to find someone with whom he can finally be himself.
Gerard Depardieu remains one of the world's best living actors, a fact that is brought vividly to the forefront in this simple yet poignant film where he adds layer upon layer upon layer to Germain, embodying fully the working class Frenchman that the French, really the world, have come to fully embrace. Depardieu is a French cinematic icon, and his work here reminds us exactly why. Depardieu's performance seems effortless, but there's no question it's not. It's amazing that after 40+ years on the big screen that he can still project such a sense of surrender and vulnerability and wonder.
At 96-years-old, Gisele Casadesus is equally marvelous as the elder Margueritte with a performance that exudes worldly wisdom, intelligence and the sensitivity that comes from having lived long enough to realize that everyone around you has rather remarkable potential.
Together, these two aren't electrifying... that's really the point. They are genuine, tender, heartfelt and simply unforgettable.
D.P. Arthur Cloquet's lensing is both pristine and intimate, building a relationship with these two people even as they are doing so themselves. The film's production design is beautiful, while Laurent Voulzy's original music is simply exquisite. At a rapid fire running time of 82 minutes, there are moments in My Afternoons With Margueritte that feel a tad rushed and, as a result, the film's ending feels less satisfying than it might, however, if only to watch the incredible performances between Depardieu and Casadesus this is a film you'll want to catch when it lands at an arthouse theatre near you.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic