Thursday, 9 December 2010

My Afternoons with Margueritte


How can someone who has been loved so little, love so much? This film is a gift - a kind of French Forrest Gump.

Germain was an unwanted child - the product of a fling at a dance between his mother and and an American GI. In a relentless series of flashbacks, Germain is told of his uselessness, his clumsiness, his stupidity and reminded that his arrival in this world was both unintended and unwelcome. His mother treats him harshly and undermines any self-confidence he may have had. His teacher at school does the same in a series of ritual humiliations. His drinking 'buddies' at Francine's Cafe also endlessly rib him. Germain is lacking in sophistication, social graces and an ability to understand the full impact of what he says. A bumbling simpleton.

His mother is now portrayed as a deranged and drunken chain-smoking sot. Germain has a series of odd jobs which gives him an income, he also tends a productive vegetable garden at his mother's home where he lives outside in a caravan. Germain's only warmth comes from his loving relationship with Annette, the local bus driver. All of which contribute to an unlikely pretext for a movie - that is until Germain encounters Margueritte one afternoon in the local park. Margueritte has recently moved into a local retirement home. She is 95, has travelled the world and is very well read. Rather than frustration, she finds Germain's simple and uncultured demeanour something that engenders affection and she sees in him something of a kindred spirit. A friendship begins.

The in's and out's of the film explore the territory you would expect from such a plot - there is nothing new here. What is noteworthy is the powerful simplicity with which the exploration is undertaken and the strength of the performances from the whole cast. The final words of the film are a voice over by Germain where he says something like, 'it is unusual for a love story to be written and not contain the word love'.

This is a film about hope. This is a film with a powerful message about the human condition. The story of this film shows that our ability to love is innate and will find ways of expressing itself given the right circumstances. Annette and Margueritte allow Germain to express his love and so to give voice through his actions to his sense of self. The vegetable garden and Germain's understanding of what makes a good growing medium are a clever metaphor.

Germain could so easily have become an embittered victim. Instead his good-natured capacity to look for the best and help people where possible demonstrate that love has the power to transform. If we are to understand that we are made in the image of God and that the most intimate expression of God is the Trinity - a relational communion, then acting on love would seem to be very much a part of what it means to be human - to be made in the image of God and to spend our afternoons with Margueritte.

As I said, this film is a gift. Go and see it now! I'll give it 8.5/10.

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