Germain (Gerard Depardieu) is not illiterate. He knows how to read and write, but he really prefers not to. For one, he is not very good at reading — he goes slowly and he uses his finger to follow the lines across the page. However, his comprehension is pretty good, especially when someone reads aloud to him. He imagines the scene in his mind and if the reader is describing rats in the street he can see those rats squirming around in enough detail that it makes him uncomfortable. Not being a big fan of reading and not being known as any sort of intellectual at his local bar is just fine by Germain. He is a town handyman, a very capable gardener, appreciates his girlfriend, and is not depressed about his station in life.
His station isn’t very high either. He lives in a trailer behind his mother’s house and makes ends meet by being good with his hands, be it woodworking or gardening. One advantage to not having a steady 9-5 job is lunch in the park. Germain enjoys making a sandwich and leisurely eating it on his favorite park bench where he can monitor the pigeons. He goes there enough to know that in fact there are 19 usual pigeons hanging around and he even has names for all of them. It is here in the park where he meets 95 year old Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus). The park gives her a chance to escape the old folks home for a bit and read out in the sunlight.
Margueritte and Germain strike up a pleasant friendship where she reads aloud and he appreciates the stories. This is the first time in his life someone has ever taken the time to talk with him one on one about stories, how they make you feel, and what the author may have been thinking about. Germain has bad memories from his childhood, both from an unfriendly school and an uninterested mother. Margueritte sees through his thick exterior and recognizes a kind of kindred spirit, one who really appreciates a good story and crisp sentences. In another life and with decent surroundings, Margueritte surmises Germain could have been an author himself.
All of these new ideas, books, and learning makes his life a bit more uncomfortable. His friends at the bar notice his vocabulary is raising a notch or two and his girlfriend Annette (Sophie Guillemin) is starting to wonder where all of this self improvement is coming from. Give My Afternoons with Margueritte a strong point in the good script column that is sidesteps what could have been a misunderstanding with a real scene of openness, frustration, and acceptance.
Gerard Depardieu gives a very strong performance here as a guy everyone likes, except his mother, and who enjoys his life in his small town. This comes off a very good performance he had last year with Inspector Bellamy. Gisele Casadesus has shown up three times in the movies in the past few months. She has bit parts in Sarah’s Key and The Hedgehog and for a lady of such an advanced age, she really has a grasp on Margueritte and how she would feel towards a man approaching middle age whose earlier experiences stunted what could have been a wonderful relationship between him and the world of books. She may be the only 95 year old in France capable of still turning out a good performance which is why she is getting every single role in France which calls for one.
My Afternoons with Margueritte is a very pleasant way to spend your own afternoon. Watching Germain and Margueritte plod through a Camus novel is refreshing and it is truly enjoyable to sit back and watch a script unfold which chooses to step away from cliché and focus on character and style.