Film review: My Afternoons with Margueritte: The Vicarious Grandmother Experience

6 Apr

My Afternoons with Margueritte has a pretty major surprise for you: it’s a French film starring Gerard Depardieu as a loveable oaf! I know. Bizarre.

Once you’ve stopped reeling from that little revelation, I want you to remember that sometimes surprises are overrated, and there is a pretty good reason why Depardieu appears in about six billion films per year: He’s good.

Gerard plays thick of mind-and-body Germain Chaves, a simple and decent but troubled man. He stays in a caravan beside his increasingly demented (and always demeaning) mother’s house, growing vegetables, whittling birds, and mulling over his unknown father and virtual illiteracy.

In comes Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus), a little tiny lady packing a handbag full of Camus like the world’s most adorable grandmother. Germain’s half-lived fifty years render him a child in the face of the gregarious Magueritte’s ninety-five, and as their friendship deepens it allows them both the chance to experience something they have previously lacked: Maternal Love. This relationship progresses from symbolic to a more literal one.

If you were a chump you could slap some Freudian rubbish on that if you want to, hypothesise on it’s implications in a post-nuclear family age, but the fact is this is a simple story, simply told, about not so simple people. Depardieu plays his role with total sincerity, and he perfectly demonstrates a man’s transition from naivety into awareness while retaining his innocence.

Gentle comedy chugs quietly along beside the more dramatic moments, nothing being overplayed or hacked up. The overwhelming sense of sweetness doesn’t have the after-reek of saccharine. This is just genuinely enjoyable, gentle film-making in an idyllic setting with just enough grit to keep from cloying on the palate.

This being a French film they’ve got a hot blonde literate bus-driving girlfriend who inexplicably loves a fat fifty-year-old. She visits his caravan in his mother’s yard and desperately wants to make a baby with Germain, which at first seemed plain absurd. By the end of the film though, you buy it. You buy it all.

My Afternoons with Margueritte opens April 21 @ Cinema Nova and others.

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