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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
My Afternoons with Margueritte
Directed by Jean Becker
New Video Group 09/11 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Germain (Gerard Depardieu) is a jack-of-all-trades in the small French town where he was born. He lives in a trailer behind a stone house where his mother (Claire Maurier) resides. Through flashbacks we see how she verbally abused him every chance she could get when he was a child, destroying every shred of self-esteem and any hopes for himself he could muster. Even as an adult, Germain seems to draw this venom out of others: in a cafe he frequents, a caustic man constantly ridicules him, calling him a dimwit and an ignorant person. The only bright spots in this put-upon middle-ager's life are his glorious garden and the fantastic sex he has with Annette (Sophie Guillemin), a beautiful young bus driver who adores him for his gentleness and kind heart.
One afternoon Germain meets Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus), a petite 95-year-old woman whose children have put her in a nearby nursing home. It turns out they both love pigeons; in fact, Germain has named 19 of them. Margueritte loves books and, sensing that her new friend is ashamed of his reading skills, begins reading to him from Albert Camus's The Plague. After a while, Germain learns how to listen intently and begins seeing images from the words being read to him. It is a new experience of wonder and enchantment given the humiliations he received in school from teachers who made fun of him. Their friendship deepens as they are both lifted by the camaraderie of experiencing literary masterworks together.
Jean Becker has done a superb job directing this touching and tender-hearted drama that reveals a truth that we all know but seldom affirm: there are many shades of love and each can transform lives. The men at the cafe who enjoy laughing at Germain are stunned by how he changes. They do not like the new Germain. He doesn't care for he senses that Margueritte has opened new doors for him and that he must find a way of paying her back.
My Afternoons with Margueritte is a cross-generational French film that celebrates the wisdom of the heart and the mind in tandem.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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