La tête en friche (My Afternoons with Margueritte) tries to be a charming sketch of bittersweet village life, but instead it falls flat. It was just embarrassing.
In a small town somewhere in France, the stout Germain (a gone-to-seed Gérard Depardieu) unwillingly occupies the position of village idiot. Slow to read, slow with numbers and painfully conscious of this, Germain spends his days trying to find simple pleasures - his vegetable garden, his girlfriend, drinks with the mates - and trying to keep at bay the ridicule and disdain of the other villagers and, most especially, his indifferent, shrewish mother (Claire Maurier). Things take an upturn when he befriends the coquettish, patient, 95-year-old Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus), and they spend their lunches sitting on the park bench, reading Camus to each other. Under Margueritte's loving care, Germain gets (1) the mother he wanted, and (2) the confidence to blossom like a little intellectual flower.
The core of the story is sweet enough, and might have made a charming piece. Instead, things are handled so bluntly that we wondered if the film wasn't trying to go all meta on Germain's bumbling, clumsy ham-fisting. Example: the distracting and unnecessary flashbacks, where a school-age Germain - in the same outfit! and the same haircut! - is regularly mocked by his teachers and mother for being slow. Or Margueritte and Germain's execrably banal conversations. Or the fact that Depardieu, bless him, is about thirty years too old for this part, and his relationship with the beautiful bus driver, Annette (Sophie Guillemin), strains credulity. Or their awful (AWFUL) pillow talk. Or the Italian stereotype, Gardini (François-Xavier Demaison), complete with oily hair and hands flying around.
French films about the honest, humble "la vie est belle!" glory of the village have been done before - and, presumably, there must be some good ones. But all the ones we've seen - this, Chocolat, Amélie - rely on a sort of maudlin sentimentality, as well as a romanticized notion of the rich, golden-toned Frenchness of living in France, that we can't stand. Let Nanni Moretti glorify the mundane and the good life.