An unpretentious, unsentimental tale is a perfectly quaint vehicle for the sure-handed, stout Gerard Depardieu whose career is hardly bumbling at this point when many with his international clout are.
My Afternoons With Margueritte (La Tete En Friche - in French with subtitles) will delight art house cineastes looking to escape the typical rut that Hollywood seems to deliver this time of year. In some ways, it's a splash of a welcome wake-up call, cognizant of the austerity and tenderness that comprises life and its possibilities.
Depardieu's middle-aged kindly fellow in Germain has been always mocked by his diva mother into believing what she thinks he is an oaf. Yet, a dopey Germain seems to be admired by those around him.
Co-writer and director Jean Becker wisely fills out Germain's present and sketched-out past with an affecting simplicity that lifts it above all cliches with an unpremeditated curiosity going through the nosy protagonist. He injects some pungent wit and vivacity in the everyday and its conversations.
The eponymous well-read woman (Gisele Casadesus) meets Germain in the park as she's 40 years his senior and 200 pounds his junior. They spend some valuable reading time together which helps illuminate a so-called idiot, giving involuntary rise to an unnoticed intellect.
Over a three decade career, Depardieu (good in the recent Potiche) has run the gamut of characters starting from the macho tough French guy. Here, with curtness and calm, he layers Germain who begins to see more into those around him.
Backup is enriched through a bus-driving amour (Sophie Guillemin), a cafe-proprietor (Claire Maurier), and Anne Guernec as Germain's much younger, indifferent mother. A sweet Casadesus also has some quietly effective moments with Depardieu as Germain doesn't appear to realize what's happening to him.
Being with an often understated, charming Margueritte has its truthful, unobtrusive emotional highs and lows that will make many folks especially in the age bracket between its park bench characters worth their afternoons or evenings with them.