Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE: Becker's back with Depardieu & Casadesus

Becker's back, all right. That's Jean Becker, and I'll bet you've never heard of him. Or at least you heard of him so long ago (in 1983 his film One Deadly Summer won a bunch of Césars, including one for Isabelle Adjani as Best Actress) that by now you'd forgotten. TrustMovies hasn't, however, because Becker, shown below, also made one of TM's favorite films twelve years ago called Children of the Marshlands. I may be over-rating this star-studded nostalgic concoction, partly because, upon my first and only viewing, I was utterly blown away by the beauty and emotion of this sprawling, multi-generational look at French provincial life. (The film was never released here in the U.S., making its simultaneous debut and swan-song during the FSLC's Rendez-vous with French Cinema, 2000.)

Becker's latest, MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE (La tête en friche) is like a small, updated detail from Children of the Marshlands: 81 minutes, as opposed to 115, and taking place in modern times while still dealing, and beautifully, with French provincial life. One of its stars, the dear, wispy (you worry that she will blow away right in front of you) 97-year-old icon Gisèle Casadesus (shown below, and seen most recently as Mamé in Sarah's Key and Mme de Brog-lie in The Hedgehog), also had a plum role in "Marshlands."

Casadesus plays the supporting role in the new film, whose real star is Gérard Depardieu (below, right), he of the recent airplane urination, who, after viewing in this film, you may be tempted to claim has given his greatest role. He has not, by a long shot. Yet the fellow he plays here -- Germain Chazes: middle-aged, overweight, still sexy but nearly illiterate -- is so different from almost anything else the man has done, and he does the role superbly, that you are likely to be impressed all over again with the versatility and commitment of M. Depardieu.

Because My Afternoons with Margueritte (the double "t" in her name is intentional) is indeed a feel-good movie that will make you feel quite good, it will be easy for cynical audiences to pooh-pooh its very real worth. It offers us a slice of provincial life today in which characters bump up against each other angrily (while still loving and helping when possible), give in to typical prejudice (then try to rise above it), and are beset by a stinking economy that makes them have to choose between equally important concerns.

In addition, Depardieu's character Germain is beset from childhood (which we see in some beautifully created flashbacks: that's newcomer Florian Yven, above left, as the younger Germain) until the present with a mother from hell. This character (played very well in her salad days by Anne Le Guernec, and as an aging crone by Claire Maurier, below), as much as any holds the movie together and, for all its feel-good capacity, gives the film a continuing jolt of reality. When you're mom's against you, how good can life be?

The village life -- from the plaza in which Depardieu and Casadesus meet, to the bar and its "flies" below -- are brought to fine life by a cast who understands these characters, and a screenplay (by Becker and Jean-Loup Dabadie, from the book by Marie-Sabine Roger) that, however briefly, brings them to life.

The town bartender, played by Maurane (below) with a splendid combination of zest and sadness, adds to the talent on display. I wish I had the time and energy to talk about all the subsidiary characters, whom you'll  remember due to the actors' nailing their character so well, even in the brief screen time they are given.

One more word about Depardieu. His girth is just as great as it has been for some time now. In his mid-60s, the actor -- perhaps due to his fat layer wiping out his wrinkles -- looks maybe 45 to 50, max, and his relationship (even his love scenes) with lovely, young Sophie Guillermin (below, left) seem not just believable but somehow even appropriate. The guy is as sexy now as he was nearly 40 years ago. Go figure. And go see the movie, which offers foreign film fans a wealth of much-needed and appreciated humane pleasures.

My Afternoons with Margueritte, from Cohen Media Group, opens this Friday, September 16, in New York City exclusively at The Paris, and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal -- with a limited, nationwide roll-out to follow in  the weeks to come.

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