You have to go back to 1983’s One Deadly Summer for a Jean Becker film with some verve.
If you are hoping My Afternoons with Margueritte is a racy prequel to Eric Rohmer’s 1969 film My Night with Maud prepare to be disappointed. Jean Becker has lately built a reputation repurposing sentimental novels for the big screen, including 2007’s Conversations with My Gardener with Daniel Auteuil. The French director is probably best known here for 1995’s Elisa, which stars Vanessa Paradis as a waif desperate to track down her father, played by Gérard Depardieu.
Depardieu is once again the big draw here as Germain Chazes, a man who’s not quite the village idiot, but is the butt of everyone’s jokes nonetheless. It’s difficult to shake the image of Depardieu as Obelix each time his rotund form fills the screen, dressed in blue overalls. This is a role Depardieu could play with his eyes closed, and often he does just that; he’s not so much phoning in this performance as texting it from the cellars of one of his vineyards. You wonder how he has the gall to criticise Juliet Binoche when he happily appears in such undemanding fare.
There are a couple of performances to admire though, firstly from nonagenarian Gisèle Casadesus as sweet old Margueritte, who befriends Chazes in the park. They form a friendship as she reads to him, and slowly they work to overcome his illiteracy. But as is the way with these things, greater knowledge doesn’t necessarily elevate him in the regard of his fellow villagers.
The primary attraction, however, is Sophie Guillemin as Chazes’ much younger lover; there is no clue from Becker as to why this pretty woman should want a baby with the doltish, if kind, Chazes. Becker does show his unhappy childhood with a vampish, hysterical mother, but the scenes are so cartoonish they feel as if they come from another film. Little better is the astounding anti-Belgian prejudice that sees Margueritte placed in a home that looks like a First World War field camp by her nephew from north of the border.
You have to go back to 1983’s One Deadly Summer for a Becker film with some verve.
A sentimentalist’s education.
A saccharine prose poem over the closing credits underlines the nausea.