If you’re in the mood for a gentle French comedy, spend a few hours with Gerard Depardieu and Gisele Casadesus.
Their chance encounter begins one sunny afternoon on a park bench in Pons, a small, coastal village in the Charente-Maritime region. Hulking yet genial, 50ish Germain Chazes (Depardieu) works on construction jobs. While he enjoys spending time with his sexy bus-driver girlfriend (Sophie Guillemin) and sipping wine with his cronies at a local cafe, he’s essentially a lonely man. Living in a small trailer located in back of his mother’s house, he dutifully nurtures his vegetable garden and the produce brings in some extra income at the farmers’ markets. In flashbacks, it’s revealed that, as a child, slow-witted Germain was often not only verbally abused by his shrewish mother (Anne Le Guernec/Claire Maurier) but also his insensitive teachers and classmates at school.
One afternoon, while feeding the pigeons in the park, he meets Margueritte (“with two t’s”), a fragile, elderly lady who has been living in a nearby retirement home but now faces an uncertain future because her uncaring family is no longer willing to foot the bill. While she also enjoys feeding the pigeons, she really relishes reading. But Germain, being almost functionally illiterate, is quite intimidated by the written word. Yet soon Margueritte is reading aloud to him, patiently explaining and repeating particular phrases that he doesn’t understand. Before long, they’re conversing regularly and she’s sharing books with Germain, enabling him to surprise his bistro buddies with erudite references to the work of Albert Camus and Romain Gary.
Adapting Marie-Sabine Roger’s popular novel, veteran French director Jean Becker co-wrote the sentimental screenplay with Jean-Loup Dabadie. Gerard Depardieu, who previously appeared in Becker’s “Elisa” (1995), captures Germain’s working-class essence, imbuing him with poignant kindness and provincial humor, while 97 year-old Gisele Casadesus embodies Margueritte’s worldly background as a warm-hearted health worker.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “My Afternoons With Margueritte” is a subtly sweet, compassionate 7, appealing to art-house filmgoers of a certain age.