My Afternoons with Margueritte

First, please take a look at the trailer, so my comments will seem less cryptic.

The studio’s description does a rather poor job of highlighting what is wonderful about this film, for it isn’t the situation or the events that make this story great, in my view. However, perhaps we in North America need the focus on ‘what the film is about’:

MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE is the uplifting story of one of those chance encounters that can radically change the course of someone’s life. Germain (Gérard Depardieu) is a large and almost illiterate man in his fifties. He is unmarried and still lives with his mother with whom he has a fractious relationship.

Margueritte is a tiny, elderly woman with a passion for the written word. There’s 40 years and 200 pounds’ difference between them and only one thing in common, a shared fondness for pigeons. When Germain happens to sit beside her on a park bench and Margueritte reads extracts from her novels to him, an unlikely and unexpected friendship develops. Under Margueritte’s tutelage, Germain discovers a love of literature and with it, a wisdom which confounds his friends at the bistro who have always treated him like an idiot. As Margueritte begins to lose her eyesight, Germain sees an opportunity to use his love for this sweet and mischievous grandma to improve both his own life and hers.

Français : Gérard Depardieu au festival de Cannes

Français : Gérard Depardieu au festival de Cannes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I guess I should admit that Depardieu is one of those actors whose work I am drawn to: even his weakest performance is generally better than the best work of others. He is like De Niro or Streep, to me: some of their most stunning work occurs with roles or scripts that seem slight.

In My Afternoons, a film that focuses on a very few events and characters, Depardieu conveys information with small gestures, with the changes of the character’s gaze, and with the silences between words. As a film about reading, such silences provide counterpoints to the novels Margueritte shares with Germain.

Even the quality of light and the emphasis on open spaces, highlighted by the darkness of enclosed spaces, contributes to the effect of reflection that results from reading.

Perhaps it’s because of my new way of watching movies (about 15 minutes at a time; not by choice), but I’m drawn to the small moment, the eyes that move away, the light that changes ever so slightly within a scene. If so, maybe that will be ok.


Sita Sings the Blues (animated film)

The shadow puppet narrators discuss Rama's att...

The shadow puppet narrators discuss Rama’s attitude towards Sita after her trial by fire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nina Paley‘s Sita Sings the Blues (2008) wasn’t at all what I had expected. Here is the site description:

Uploaded by CinemaNirvana on May 19, 2011

“Sita Sings the Blues” is based on the Hindu epic “The Ramayana“. Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina Paley is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by email. Three hilarious shadow puppets narrate both ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the Ramayana. Set to the 1920’s jazz vocals of torch singer Annette Hanshaw, Sita Sings the Blues earns its tagline as “the Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told.” It is written, directed, produced and animated by American artist Nina Paley.

For more about the film and about Nina Paley’s other work, see

A little bit cabaret, a little bit Bollywood, and a whole lot completely unique. The variety of styles grabbed my attention even when I wasn’t sure what was happening at the beginning of the film. I always think, though, that writers and artists of every kind will tell their readers/viewers how to ‘read’ a work, if we can relax and accept some direction. The animated shadow puppets try to tell a bit of “The Ramayana” and in doing so, perform an analysis of the story they narrate. Meanwhile, the story is being read by a woman whose heart has been broken like Sita’s.

Stories within stories within stories. What a great reminder that tellers and audiences create art simultaneously. Likewise, the multiple depictions of Sita and Rama (as well as the rest of the cast) enact the idea of arbitrary representation and interpretation.