For every fast-paced action film from the school of Michael Bay, comes quiet little films that focus on characters and relationships for those who want something light and amusing on that particular night. This is 1 of those films.
Set in a small french village in 2010, My Afternoons With Margueritte (La tête en friche) revolves around the life of a comparatively bumbling, illiterate, 45 year old handyman named Germain (played by Gérard Depardieu). Germain has had a difficult life, but also 1 with a lovely simplicity to it. His mother, Jacqueline (played by Claire Maurier, who was Suzanne, the owner of the Café des 2 Moulins in Amelie, and also played by Amandine Chauveau in flashback scenes) didn’t show him any love growing up (often reminding him that he’s a clumsy, unwanted child, born from a fling that was missing a rubber on a national holiday), but he still parks his caravan near her home, and grows a vegetable patch in her garden. He spends his days doing handiwork around the village, selling some of his produce at the local farmer’s market, drinking wine at the bar (where the intelligent drinkers find amusement in him), and enjoying the friendly (and more) company of his girlfriend Annette (played by Sophie Guillemin), a much younger woman who is also a bus driver. One day, his routine shifts slightly, and his life is changed forever, when he meets a 95 year old woman in the park named Margueritte (played by Gisèle Casadesus). She reads classic novels to him, and helps to both expand his horizons, and encourage him to become better than his circumstances by learning to read and be more intelligent in his dialogue.
Now to break down the story into it’s building blocks.
The Acting looked very natural, as it doesn’t try to be too over the top. Despite what people would say about Gérard Depardieu’s reputation today, the man can still act when he wants to. He does a great job creating this tragic, yet comical and loveable character, who, despite his lack of education and self-esteem, certainly has a mind of his own. I found his performance enjoyable, and he manages to create a balance between comedic and sympathetic. Casadesus as Margueritte is played with great endearance (I know it’s not a word, but I feel its inclusion would be afternoonified). The actors playing the intellectual barflies were amusing, both Claire Maurier and Amandine Chauveau as Jacqueline were quite insane, and the romance between the Bartender, Francine, and her Algerian-french Waiter Youssef was amusing with Germain’s verbal involvement.
The Characters have a little bit of a Last Of The Summer Wine quality, since it’s set in a rural village and everybody basically knows everybody. There is a great humanity to them, despite the lack of screen time for a number of them, and somehow nobody was too over the top when there was any tension (which doesn’t happen much in this film, but is mostly found in the flashbacks).
The story, believe it or not, is the “Hero saving the princess” story arc in disguise, and when seen within that context, it becomes a really well written film. As Margueritte is diagnosed with macular degeneration, and her family consider moving her out of her home, It’s up to Germain to get to the point where he can read to her. The drama in this film can be seen more in the flashbacks to Germain’s childhood, to highlight his troubled upbringing. In terms of overcoming the monster, it’s Germain’s lack of literacy that holds him back, but he gradually works his way passed it.
The Music is by Laurent Voulzy and I don’t remember it too well. It wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t stand out in such a way that I would buy the soundtrack (unlike The Revenant or Amelie).
The setting is roughly as gentle as both Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in Lasse Hallström’s 2000 film Chocolat, and Sanford, Gloucestershire in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (minus the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance). It doesn’t have any murders, so don’t expect Madame Marple to show up any time soon.
The film’s sense of humour is very gentle, and also relatable. I got a few laughs at Germain learning to read while his cat stares at him…and then he talks to the cat while he’s learning. I also got laughs from a combination of misunderstandings, as well as some poorly chosen words by Germain himself.
Would I recommend My Afternoons With Margueritte? Yes…But it’s not a film for everybody. If you don’t like subtitles, I wouldn’t choose it as the film to break that glass ceiling. If you’re looking for exciting and dynamic storytelling, this film might be too slow, and even boring for you. But if you’re in the mood for something light-hearted, beautifully told, and still remain meaningful, then do give this a go. As someone who enjoys good superhero and hong kong action movies, this was a nice change of pace.