My Afternoons with Margueritte (Cohen Media Group, NR)

This is the kind of film in which a little belief in magic is not entirely out of place.

If Slow Food International ever decides to make a film celebrating traditional values, it might come out something like My Afternoons with Margueritte. Starring Gérard Depardieu as Germain, an apparently dull-witted resident of a small French village, and Gisèle Casadesus as Margueritte, the elderly resident who befriends him, the film is a love letter to the good, old-fashioned ways of doing things.
A very selective love letter, to be sure, My Afternoons with Margueritte celebrates people who are good rather than clever, take the time to eat real food (preferably growing it, as well), and appreciate the individuality of those around them. Who could argue with those values? It’s just that there are plenty of bad old ways which often accompanied such traditions (racism and anti-Semitism come immediately to mind), a fact which makes me immediately suspicious of anyone who says they want to return to the good old days.
But never mind. Only the good aspects of traditional village culture concern writer-director Jean Becker, who aims for charm rather than profundity, and hits the bull’s-eye with this leisurely film. The basic set-up is that Germain has settled into an existence in which everyone in his village underestimates him. He generally chooses to ignore them while concentrating on the more certain pleasures of the table and the bedroom. The latter are provided courtesy of his cute girlfriend Francine (Sophie Guillemin), who adores him for his essential goodness. Flashbacks to Germain’s childhood suggest he has some kind of learning disability, coupled with the uncertain attentions of an impatient mother (Anne Le Guernec) who was not interested in taking the time to understand him. (There’s some more of the not-so-good old days for you.)
One day, apparently by chance, Germain strikes up a conversation with the elderly Margueritte. After some philosophical discussion, she lends him a volume of Camus and the plot, such as it is, is set into motion. Questions such as who Margueritte is and why she takes such an interest in Germain are never brought up—in fact, she seems almost like a guardian angel sent to earth to intervene on his behalf—but this is the kind of film in which a little belief in magic is not entirely out of place.
The heart of My Afternoons with Margueritte is the relationship between Germain and Margueritte, and fortunately the actors both deliver the goods. Casadesus, now age 97, is a marvel of restraint, while Depardieu projects amiability as effortlessly as ever, cheerfully shrugging off the town’s abuse and enjoying the good things life brings him. Most of the other characters are barely sketched in, and the film works a little too hard in contrasting the horrors of modern life with the pleasures of a relaxed small-town existence—a gratuitous scene of a young woman yelling down her Bluetooth comes immediately to mind—but such matters can be overlooked given the film’s tender portrayal of a most unlikely friendship.
Germain’s friendship with Margueritte helps him connect with a more philosophical part of his brain, which he finds to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he acquires more confidence, but on the other, this new kind of thinking raises questions in his mind that he has been suppressing for years. The film’s conclusion comes a bit too easily, but since it is overall such a pleasant trifle, it hardly seems worth worrying about such matters. Unfussy location cinematography by Arthur Clouquet (the film was shot in Pons, Charente-Maritime in southwestern France) and music by Laurent Voulzy are additional bonuses. My Afternoons with Margueritte provides a charming 82 minutes at the theater. | Sarah Boslaugh

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