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My Afternoons With Marguerite

My Afternoons With Marguerite movie review
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Germain is a handyman in a sloppy flannel shirt and overalls, overweight and hulking. Margueritte is a little (85 pounds) old (95 years) lady. They meet on a park bench, where both know that exactly 14 pigeons hang out there, and both recognize them by sight.

Germain may be a hulk (he's played by Gerard Depardieu, who certainly is). But he is gentle and has a good heart, despite having been treated with cruelty by a mother who still survives to make his life miserable. He lives in a small trailer parked near his childhood home and lovingly tends his garden, where his mother displays sporadic violence against leeks.

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Margueritte is played by Gisele Casadesus, now 97, who made her first film in 1934 as a member of Comedie Francaise. She is so slight and fragile she reminds Germain of a glass figure. She once worked for the World Health Organization, now lives in a retirement home with her beloved books.

Germain believes he cannot read. Actually, we discover later, he was taught to read but never taught to have a shred of self-confidence. She begins to read to him — The Plague by Camus — and he is an ideal listener. With her as his catalyst, he makes slow steps toward self-esteem.

This happens in an improbably sweet film that will strike many as too upbeat. Germain is cuddled by his adorable bus-driver girlfriend Annette (Sophie Guillemin), and pals around with his buddies at a local cafe. He suffers through flashbacks to his unhappy childhood, but seems on the whole serene. He loves Annette but he declares himself "in love" with Margueritte.

So are we, a little. She is bright-eyed and high-spirited, and never overplays the heart-tugging. The director, Jean Becker, is the son of the great French noir director Jacques Becker, who was 8 when Gisele Casadesus was born. There's history here. The happy ending lays it on too thick, but what the hell: In for a dime, in for a dollar. Besides, the movie started me re-reading The Plague.

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