Judge Russell Engebreston has spent an afternoon or two in Margaritaville.
The story of life's random encounters in a small French town.
My Afternoons with Margueritte (Blu-ray) is a French movie with a large helping of Hollywood sentimentality. The mixture of styles could be a plus or minus, depending on one's proclivity for French cinema versus Hollywood mainstream product.
Facts of the Case
Germaine Chazes (Gérard Depardieu, Tous les Matins du Monde) is a somewhat simple fellow who has spent his whole life of sixty-plus years in a small French village. He makes his living as a handyman and by selling homegrown vegetables at the town market. He gets little respect from the townies, or even his drinking buddies. Several flashbacks to Germaine's childhood show the abuse and indifference he received from peers, a bullying schoolteacher, and his decidedly non-nurturing mother who never misses an opportunity to inform her son what a pest and burden he is. The single bright spot in Germaine's social life is his young love, Annette (Sophie Guillemin, With Friends Like Harry…). Until, that is, he makes a new and entirely unexpected acquaintance.
Germaine's circumscribed life is profoundly changed by a chance encounter with Margueritte (Gislèe Casadesus, The Hedgehog), a nonagenarian lady who spends her afternoons reading in the park. It so happens Germaine likes to take his lunch in the same spot and watch the pigeons (all of which he has named). Germaine introduces himself, tells her the name of each pigeon, explaining why each was so named, and inquires as to what she is reading. Margueritte tells him she is reading a novel by Albert Camus. Germaine evinces no interest in literature—although not unintelligent, his many humiliations at the hands of a childhood teacher soured him on reading. However, Margueritte's offer to read the novel aloud rekindles his interest in the written word. Over the course of several weeks, he comes to love the old lady who has opened his mind to a world far beyond the confines of the small town in which he has always lived.
A day after viewing the movie, I still felt ambivalent about My Afternoons with Margueritte. It's like a fine chocolate truffle, delicious but oh-so-sweet. The hackneyed story elements include a gorgeously sexy girlfriend half the protagonist's age, minor characters with no depth or redeeming qualities (an abusive schoolteacher, an arrogant intellectual snob, a cold and uncaring mother), and a crowd=pleasing but contrived happy ending. Yet, the central story is compelling and touching. The budding friendship between Margueritte and Germaine, and the way Margueritte gently but insistently tutors her friend may be idealized, but there is a basic decency and goodness present that makes one want to believe in and care about these people. It certainly helps that the seasoned actors, Depardieu and Casadesus, invest the movie with such fine performances. Sentimentality and a couple of slight subplots may undermine the movie to an extent, but in the end, the actors, the core story, and a bit of levity save the film from mawkishness.
The 2:35:1/1080p AVC-encode is good but not highly detailed, displaying softness in distant shots. The film's brightly lit sets have a naturalistic and pleasing appearance, with occasional splashes of color to highlight the scene (one of Germaine's gaudy shirts is especially vibrant). I did not notice any serious compression artefacts, and as one would expect for a recent film, the transfer is spotless. It's not an exceptional picture, but no cause for serious complaints. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio delivers clear dialogue and background sound, with most of the audio concentrated across the front and center speakers. The only extra is a trailer.
My Afternoons with Margueritte (Blu-ray) may prove too sweet a confection for some, but at barely an hour and twenty minutes it does not linger overly long, and the few treacly or unnecessary scenes are offset by the lovely, evolving relationship between Germaine and Margueritte, and by the film's simple message—reading books matters.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
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