Film review: My Afternoons With Margueritte

Gerard Depardieu’s soppy but sweet film loses something in translation

SOMETIME during the filming of the first Asterix film, Gerard Depardieu must have looked admiringly at himself in the mirror in his Obelix outfit and thought: “Yeah, I look good in this” – and decided to stick with the look.

Now almost perfectly spherical, his enormous stomach seems to have developed a character all of its own. It is akin to Les Dawson in drag, constantly trying to prod his fake breasts back into position.

Here Depardieu is playing a rather dim-witted odd job man who strikes up a strange relationship with the elderly Margueritte (Casadesus), meeting every afternoon on a park bench to count pigeons and discuss literature.

Her frail little body next to his rotund expanse makes for a nice physical contrast, accentuating her vulnerability.

She is in love with reading and the written word while he has never read anything. She reads to him and slowly he grows to appreciate the stories.

Even my GCSE level five French is good enough to tell me that the English title is not an accurate translation of La Tete en Friche (Idle Head).

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The English is there to reassure potential audiences that this is a very gentle foreign film – Driving Miss Daisy with subtitles.

It is also appropriate for a film where you suspect a lot is lost between the spoken dialogue and the subtitles.

In a film about the power of the written (French) word, when she is reading impressive pieces of prose and we’re reading perhaps less impressive stretches of subtitles, or when Depardieu is complaining about the dictionary entry for a certain word, you do get a strong sense of missing out.

It is all a bit soppy, even a bit mawkish, and if it was on TV with Stephen Tompkinson and Maggie Smith, you wouldn’t give it the time of day – but this is a superior production, entertaining and moving in equal part.

Michael Joyce