At the Weekend, we watched a marvellous French movie, Jean Becker’s “My Afternoons with Margueritte” of 2010 (‘La tête en friche’), starring Gérard Depardieu, Gisèle Casadesus, Maurane, Sophie Guillemin and Claire Maurier. This was a touching, sensitive and very intelligent film that deals with the special relationship that develops between an illiterate and lonely man who bonds with an elderly and well-read woman. A secondary theme is the relationship between mother and son, as well as the relationship of a couple.
The film is based on a book of the same name, ‘La tête en friche’, which translates literally as ‘The Fallow Head’ – a head like the fallow field, left to rest and gain energy, ready to be sown anew in order to yield a full crop. Little-known novelist Marie-Sabine Roger has provided the story and together with the scriptwriter Jean-Loup Dabadie, have given Jean Becker wonderful material to work with. The place of the action is set somewhere in a village in the South-West of France, with ordinary people as heroes.
Gerard Depardieu stars as Germain, a likeable, gentle giant who is a target for barbs by his friends at the café where they all meet. Germain tends a garden of home grown veggies, and does odd job handyman-type work. He lives in a caravan close to his abusive mother’s home. Quite by chance, Germain meets Margueritte (veteran actress, Gisele Casadesus) at the park where they both like to feed the pigeons from the same park bench. A deep friendship develops between the two even though Margueritte is 95 years old and lives at a retirement facility nearby.
Margueritte’s pleasures are memories, the reading and re-reading of books and counting pigeons. When she meets the almost illiterate Germain, she recognises a wounded and sensitive man with a big heart. Germain is an attentive and active listener, and slowly Margueritte sows the seeds of deep thought in Germain’s mind by reading aloud to him. Germain’s relationship with Margueritte is initially misunderstood by Annette (Sophie Guillemin), who is Germain’s girlfriend. This and Germain’s lack of self-esteem and his little belief in his own abilities, seem to threaten his new-found spirit of enquiry and efforts to improve himself, until…
The acting is wonderful with Depardieu Casadesus giving stellar performances. The direction is gentle, intelligent and sensitive, while the music and cinematography are both professional and unobtrusive, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the people of the story. It is hard not to get involved in the burgeoning relationship between the two leading characters, and to the development of a deep friendship between them.
The film is sad and funny, hard-hitting and gentle, touching but not maudlin and light but not superficial. Without being depressing the film sensitizes the viewer to a host of “heavy” themes, such as the status of the elderly in our society, death, the effects of a difficult childhood, the problems of single parent families, the damage that can be wrought by bad teachers.
The film ends with a wonderful quote, which I reproduce in full:
“It’s not a typical love affair, but love and tenderness, are both there. Named after a daisy, she lived amongst words, surrounded by adjectives in green fields of verbs. Some force you yield to, but she, with soft art, passed through my hard shell and into my heart. Not always are love stories just made of love. Sometimes love is not named but it’s love just the same. This is not a typical love affair – I met her on a bench in my local square. She made a little stir, tiny like a bird with her gentle feathers. She was surrounded by words, some as common as myself. She gave me books, two or three. Their pages have come alive for me. Don’t die now, you've still got time, just wait, it’s not the hour, my little flower. Give me some more of you. More of the life in you. Wait! Not always are stories just made of love. Sometimes love is not named. But it’s love just the same…”
Watch this film, it’s a good one!
Watch this film, it’s a good one!