Genre: Foreign, Comedy, Drama
Opens locally Friday, October 14th, 2011 (check for showtimes)
Run Time: 1 hour, 22 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Gisele Casadesus
Co-written and Directed by Jean Becker (Love Me No More, Conversations with My Gardener)
In this French film, Gerard Depardieu plays Germain, a lumbering ogre of a man who’s big heart more than makes up for his simple brain. He’s not stupid or dim-witted, but rather uneducated and as we find out, unloved. By chance, he meets the 90-something year-old Margueritte (Casadesus) in the park, and the two become unlikely friends.
Germain and Margueritte meet each day, counting and naming all of the pigeons that gather in front of their park bench. Margueritte is always clutching on to a good book, and quoting passages from authors totally foreign to Germain. Germain is illiterate, and Margueritte is opening up a new world to him, inspiring him. Meeting with Margueritte becomes the best part of his day, and we see also the importance of companionship that Germain brings into Margueritte’s life.
A movie this simple and straight-forward shouldn’t have been so compelling and heart-warming.
What director Jean Becker gives us is more or less a love story. No, Germain and Margueritte are not romantic, but aren’t we all smart enough to know that love comes in many shapes and sizes? “I love that book” or “I love my dog” or “I love you dear” all have different meanings. We just don’t usually see movies dealing with these other forms of love, of the non-romantic variety.
But make no mistake, these two love each other, and go through the gamut of emotions one would expect. The excitement and inspiration of a new relationship, the deep care and feeling for the other person that grows over time. Many people say that a “complete” couple are two people who compliment each other, balancing out one person’s strengths with the other’s weakness. Both Germain and Margueritte have gaping voids, and they are exactly what each of them need.
As the movie progresses, we get some background on Germain. To say that he was abused both mentally and physically would be an understatement. He is ridiculed in front of his classmates, and by his own mother in public. When we flash forward to see the adult Germain still taking care of his ailing mother after all that she has done, we see the size of his heart. He is a kind, caring person who to this day is still ridiculed by his so-called “friends.” He has a girlfriend who loves him dearly, and despite his massive size and face only a mother should love, we understand why he is lovable.
Although directed with care, My Afternoons with Margueritte would never work if not for the amazingly under-stated performance by star Gerard Depardieu. Who can read a dictionary to a cat in a lengthy scene, and make it believably touching? He isn’t given “Oscar-worthy” blow-ups or emotional break-downs, but his performance is of that caliber nonetheless.
In what appears to be a simple story at first, we see it transform along the way into a very deep and moving film.
The movie has flaws, and some plot contrivances, but you can’t help but fall in love yourself with the two central characters. Despite some heavy-duty emotional baggage from his childhood, Depardieu creates Germain as an optimistic hero, in a performance worthy of award-consideration. The final scene sums it up perfectly when we hear the following: “Not always are love stories just made of love. Sometimes love is not named. But it’s love just the same.”