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Passion and love; friendship and respect; philosophy and humanity

Margueritte and Germaine

Margueritte and Germaine



My Afternoons With Margueritte – Jean Becker

Rumpelstiltskinian: Director Becker has taken a few random narrative straws and spun them into a fragment of gold. Sentimental? Yes: but touching, truthful and with that rare quality in modern movies, heart.

Semi-literate Germain Chazes (a superb Depardieu) was the unwanted result of a post-prandial quickie between his mother, Francine and a local WOS (Waste Of Space) who she quickly kicked out when he hit her and the young Germain. Some 50 or so years later Germain now lives with and looks after Francine who has become a troublesome mixture of over-protective and over-critical maternalism and given to quasi-senile eccentric behaviour and violent outbursts of pent up frustration. Germain sleeps with Annette the good-natured, bucolic local bus driver.

Germain is part of the furniture of the village: both liked and mocked in equal measure by his pals in the local bar. By chance he comes upon Margueritte (the sublime 96 years old Gisele Casadeus) taking respite from her care home on a bench in the village square reading; and naming the pigeons gathered around her.

This unlikely pair strike up conversation and then a relationship in which Margueritte’s passion for books and words begins to engage Germain to whom she reads aloud: initially the works of Camus. The deep humanity in Camus’ writing finds an echo in the humble good-natured Germain and his meetings with Margueritte take on a special importance to them both. Unlike almost everyone else in his life, Margueritte sees Germain without pre-conceptions based upon his lack of education. Her reading aloud bypasses the barrier to his exposure to insightful thought and he displays both emotional sensitivity and appreciation of the world of thought Margueritte has opened up to him.

A gift of a dictionary from Margueritte proves a mixed blessing to Germaine whose efforts to use it are thwarted by the philosophical paradox that you cannot easily use a dictionary to help you to read; because you need to be able to read to use a dictionary. Language is so much more than words and definitions.

When Germain confesses to Annette that he loves Margueritte her initial jealousy is allayed by both the age of her rival and the nature of the deep feelings Germain has for his nonagenarian mentor. So when it emerges that Margueritte’s eyesight is failing, now awakened to understand how precious is that which Margueritte is about to lose, Germain resolves, aided by Annette, to improve his own reading so that he can exchange roles with the old lady and read to her.

Financial circumstances force Margueritte out of her care home and she leaves town. Germain sets out to find her. The outcome I will leave to you to discover.

There is so much that could go wrong with this scenario and one shudders to think of it in the wrong, especially Anglo-Saxon hands. But for me Becker never puts a foot wrong: and the playing of Casadesus and Depardieu is a delight. Depardieu is like a gigantic truffle: lumpy, mis-shapen, earthy; yet full of unique flavour to be savoured one thin slice at a time. And Casadeus demonstrates that in 76 films in 76 years she has learned how to be truthful on camera.

Keenly observed is the way that simple, good-natured people like Germain with no instinctive facility with words and language, are trapped within the prison of other people’s easy under-estimation of them: no less a prison of limited expectations because it is created with affection and not malice. Equally important is the realisation that our sense of humanity, emotional insight and moral character are not intellectual qualities: we do not learn or acquire these deep human traits and possibilities of human relationship from literature; we recognize them within it. Camus more than most I think, would approve of such an evocative demonstration of this fundamental truth.

That’s it. Not much happens. People talk: and connect. Easy assumptions and expectations are questioned and exposed for what they are: the laziness which often limits much in our relationships with one another. The truthfulness of the relationship between Germain and Margueritte lies more in the challenge she presents to him than the instinctive affection which fuels it. She is the only person in his world who expects something from him he has has not yet displayed. One superb little scene sums this up: Germain mentions Camus to one of his drinking pals who remarks with astonishment “you’ve read Camus”? To which Germain without artifice simply says “only La Peste, L’Etranger and La Chute“.

A film about passion and love; friendship and respect; intellect and wisdom; philosophy and humanity. How French is that? Simply a delight. Dont miss it.

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